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Visits can be a positive experience for a child. All children should be prepared before their first visit to the bedside. Talk to the child and explain what they will see, in words that match the child's age and comprehension.
Ask the nurse or Social Worker to help you. They can show the child equipment before they enter the room. Plan a time for the visit in advance so the environment can be prepared. It is important not to rush a child into a visit if they do not want to attend. The child should be given enough time to have their questions answered and to talk about their feelings.
Prior to the visit, encourage the child to bring a favourite photograph or memento, make a card or drawing or write a letter. The might want to make an audiotape or videotape for their ill family member. The child can bring their "gift" when they come for their visit, allowing them to feel they are playing an important role.
A parent is usually the best judge of the right time to bring his or her child in to visit. Although adults often fear that a child will find visiting traumatic, children generally respond quite well. Children old enough to watch television have usually been exposed to a wide variety of hospital scenarios and they often demonstrate more curiosity than fear. A child's response is influenced by adults in the room. If the adults are calm and reassuring, the experience is usually very positive for the child.
The age of a child will influence the way they respond. Small children lack any comprehension of illness. The response of a young child is usually related to their response to unfamiliar surroundings.
Children old enough to talk will often demonstrate a curiosity about the environment, and may ask a number of questions. The child may ask questions that seem to show a lack of concern for the person in the bed. This may make adults feel uncomfortable, however, it is a very normal way for a child to respond. Because children do not begin to grasp the concept of permanency of death before approximately 8-10 years of age, their perception of a critical illness will be different than an adults.
Adolescents and young adults understanding the meaning of loss, but do not usually expect it to ever impact their own lives. A visit to the critical care unit may be their first exposure to a life-threatening situation and the their fear of "what might happen" may be terrifying. They may demonstrate a wide range of emotions. They may attempt to suppress their feelings, may cry uncontrollably or exhibit anger and a loss of control. Adolescents often have difficulty communicating their feelings. Do not be alarmed by any of these responses. Everyone deals with distressing situations differently.
After a visit, spend time with the child. You may want to go for a walk or sit quietly with the child. Answer any questions honestly, and at the child's age level. Do not make promises to the child that you may not be able to keep or it may cause the child to lose trust. Do not force a child or adolescent to talk if they do not want to...just let them know you are present.
Last Reviewed: October 23, 2014