Are you worried because your child:

  • Thinks a lot about what happened?
  • Acts afraid of something that s/he was not scared of before, or seems to be more afraid than before?
  • Worries that something else bad will happen?

Feeling worried, fearful or anxious while in the hospital, and in the first few weeks after an injury, illness, or being in the hospital is pretty normal. 

But if these reactions last more than a few weeks, seem to get worse, or make your child afraid of getting back to normal activities- then they may signal a problem that needs attention.

How can you help your child who is worried or fearful?

Use simple words that he or she can understand. If your child needs to go through a painful procedure, be honest about the fact that it may hurt but also explain its purpose is to help him /her feel better or to help fight the illness. Remember children have active imaginations. They can tell when others are upset or not telling them things. Without the facts, they can easily misunderstand and “fill in the blanks” with their imagination. Sometimes, children mistakenly believe they did something wrong to cause their illness or injury. Ask questions to figure out what they know and what they imagine. Use words appropriate for your child’s age to share the facts about the injury or illness and let your child know that he/she has done nothing wrong to cause it.

  • While in the hospital, help your child think of the hospital staff as helpers and include your child in medical discussions when appropriate.

Remind your child that the staff has a lot of practice helping other ill or injured children. Encourage your child to ask questions, from the biggest worries to the smallest hassles, to the doctors and nurses. When possible and appropriate, allow your child to make choices to give him/her a feeling of control. Help teens participate in medical decisions by planning how to cope with pain and stressful procedures in advance. The "Hospital Hero" workbook has specific help for kids to get to know the health care team.

Ask your child (and brothers and sisters) what they are thinking, feeling, and imagining. Help them name his/her feelings, such as being scared, angry or sad. Be a good listener - and share the facts, as well as your feelings and reactions. For younger children, encourage play, drawing, and story-telling. For older children and teens, encourage them to write about their experiences and feelings. (Some teens find it useful to use their creative side – writing poetry, a song, artwork.)

  • Help your child identify triggers

Notice when your child is feeling worried, extra “jumpy”, on guard or nervous- are there situations in which this seems to happen more? Help your child understand that feeling this way is a reaction to going through something scary, and that it will get better with time. Help your child to identify things that trigger worries or scared feelings. Talk with your child about how you can help them at those times.

  • Encourage small steps towards facing fears and worries

New fears, or wanting to stay away from things that remind them of what happened, may keep your child from getting back to normal as quickly as possible. If fears or strong worries keep your child from doing safe things that they need to or want to do (like going back to school or sleeping alone), encourage any effort towards these activities. It might take a lots of little steps for a child to be able to do the whole activity. Praise their courage when they do!

  • Allow them to “take a break” from their thoughts

Help your child deal with overwhelming or troubling thoughts by learning how to “take a break” from them at times. Do something fun. Spend time with friends. Get busy with other activities.

Helpful Resources:

Does my child need talk to someone? / Do I need to talk to someone?