How can reading provide benefits to children facing lengthy hospital stays? Our friends from the Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Healthcare provide some important tips on how parents can best prepare their children and make the experience a lot less scary.
Many years ago in a major children’s hospital, Harry, a wonderful volunteer, would come in after lunch each day and do his rounds reading to the children in the different wards of the hospital. The children would always check to see if Harry was coming in each day, and disappointed little faces would abound if he ever missed his rounds.
The importance of reading books with your child in hospital
Reading is one of those activities that can help to normalise an experience that can be anything but normal. Unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells, lots of different people and new routines to get used to can be a very stressful time for both parents and children.
Reading is known to reduce stress and have a calming effect. If you are unable to be with your child at any time, you can ask the hospital volunteer service if there is someone who can read to your child in your absence. If you are lucky to be in a hospital that has the AWCH Ward Grandparent Scheme, a caring volunteer can make a real difference to the emotional side of healing.
Reading books can help prepare you and your child for hospitalisation
To prepare in advance to avoid feeling stressed, you and your child can take part in a tour of the hospital, and even encourage play about hospitals to help your child express their feelings and feel more in control.
For very young children, you might read to them Maisy Goes to Hospital or Jessica’s Xray, which is a great book for children and families to read and familiarise themselves with what an x-ray does and when it is used.
Choose books with photos or illustrations, coupled with helpful text to introduce children to the hospital environment, the role of health professionals, hospital equipment and procedures. Your child will gain greater familiarisation with the journey to come, which can really help to reduce their fear.
And remember, your child will also enjoy being read to from books that have nothing to do with hospital at all! These books act as a great diversion from the hospital experience. Books that children are familiar with and love will help connect your child to home and normal routine. Younger children will value the comfort of reading with a caring adult and books can be used as a starting point for conversations that relieve boredom.
And of course as a parent, you will want to be well informed about what to expect. Whether it is about childhood hospitalisation or chronic illness, make sure to find a helpful book to guide you. An excellent book for understanding an experience of hospital is Help! My Child’s in Hospital: A parent’s survival guide. For chronic illness, Extreme parenting: parenting your child with a chronic illness identifies areas of common concern to families and develops an approach that will encourage children to develop and lead a full life.
Health professionals have recognised that investing in the early years of a child’s life will bring lifelong benefits
We don’t immediately think of health professionals as being interested in children’s education and reading, but the research tells us the quality of the experience for children in early childhood can predict their future health, development and happiness.
In South Australia for example Professor Victor Nossar, AWCH Ambassador, headed the Every Chance for Every Child program as an important support for children’s development. This program considers reading and associated activities so important that it has given the program a goal to ‘increase the number of parents who sing, speak, or read to their children in an encouraging and positive way (0-5 years old), by 10% by December 2013.’
We are sure that you have plenty of your own children’s books, but if you need more specialised books about children and hospitals then contact AWCH and we will be only too happy to help you.
By Anne Cutler, AWCH Program Manager and Jillian Rattray, AWCH Librarian.
The Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Healthcare (AWCH) is a non-profit organisation of parents, professionals and community members who work together to ensure the emotional and social needs of children, adolescents and their families are recognised and met within hospitals and the health care system in Australia.