Books for Children Going into Hospital

by SusanM

How to find books for your child and use them to help explain a trip to hospital.

Going to hospital can be a scary experience for your child. The right book can help you talk about this new experience and help stop some of their fears.

But there are many different styles of books about going to hospital. Do you know which you should use with your child? Can some make hospital seem more frightening? Can some give children new fears? Can some lead to more questions and concerns than others? Here are some answers to these questions to help you pick the right book.

Books about Going to Hospital

Children's bibliotherapy is a type of therapy that helps kids by using books to explore their experiences. When done in a sensitive way it can help your child feel less scared about going to hospital.

As a parent you can use this form of therapy at home. Other grown ups that are important to your child like grandparents, aunts or uncles can also use bibliotherapy.

The main thing is that the person who shares these stories with your child is someone they trust and feel close to. It's also important that the person is not fearful about the hospital stay themselves (or hospitals in general). This is because they can pass their anxiety on to a child. This can make the child's fear worse. A gentle, supportive and calm approach is what's needed for this to work. 

The Least Scary of all Hospital Books

Books with animal characters rather than people can be the easiest to read to children.

This is because the use of animals feels less real (it feels more like a fairy tale). This takes away some of the fear that can be triggered by reading a book about hospital.

Books like this are often the best for very young children or those who have a lot of fear about going to hospital. But older children may think they're too baby-ish. Giving them a book like this might make them feel like you don't understand their fears.

Older children are also more interested in facts rather than fairy tales so a book like this may not answer their questions.

Animal Books About Hospital

Franklin Goes To The Hospital
Scholastic Paperbacks
My Trip to the Hospital

A Curious George Classic

Children love this story about Curious George.

This is an animal character book that has a good amount of information in it for a child. It talks about things like having an x-ray, needle and surgery. But it's written in a story style making it less scary for kids. Curious George gets into mischief as well - as he usually does. This gives the story a light feel that also helps to make it less scary.

Most kids are fans of the Curious George movie. This also makes this book an easy introduction to hospital because kids already love him.

Curious George Goes to the Hospital

Written in 1966 there are a few things that you will need to know when reading Curious George Goes to the Hospital to your child.

Unless the story has been edited since I bought my copy (a few years ago) this book uses some old words like "go-cart" for a wheelchair. The room that George is in is also an 8 bed room. Big hospital rooms like this were common in the 1960s. Now hospitals are more likely to have 4 or 2 bed rooms. (Some even have private rooms.) But these changes are easy to change while you read it to your child. (I just used the word "wheelchair" instead of "go-cart".)

I have used this book with my own niece who was frightened of hospital after a scary experience as a young child. This was her favorite hospital book and the first one I started with. After she was able to have this book read to her without fear I moved onto more realistic books. But she still asked for this one every time (I usually had to read it a few times in a row). Even now as a pre-teen she has fond memories of this book.

Books with illustrations are between the animal character and realistic books about hospital in regards to how scary they can be.

This style of book is less scary than real-life books with photos. This is because they still have a picture book feel to them. The child in the story is someone they can relate to. But it isn't a real child.

Books in this style can sometimes be more correct in how they show children what a hospital is than the animal character books. This means they can be more useful for answering questions about hospital.

If you think your child would find an animal character book too baby-ish but might be scared by a more realistic book something in this style might work well.

Real-Life Books about Going to Hospital

Photos and real facts for kids who want to know more

Books with real pictures of children in hospital usually have the best information. But they can be too scary for a child who is really scared about going to hospital. If your child is showing signs of having a lot of fear it's best to start with one of the other book styles. Then when they feel comfortable with those try a real-life one.

For children who want lots of information and need to have their questions answered before they start to feel safe a real-life book like this will work well.

Black & White Photo from What Happens in Hospital? by Laraine Toms

Who works in a hospital? What do hospitals do? What do hospitals look like?

Many children want more information about hospitals than can be answered by the going to hospital books. General children's books about hospital that have real photos are good to answer these questions.

These books have photos and information about hospital but don't focus on a child going to hospital. They often focus on different things than the going to hospital books. Because they are so general they are also a good way to give children real information without making their fear worse.

This makes them a good step before the real-life books about going to hospital.

Are Books Like This Good?

Books about having your tonsils out

Books about a specific surgery like having your tonsils out might be good for some children. But they are usually too specific to be helpful for a child going to hospital.

If you would like to read a book like this to your child it's even more important to look at it first. This is because your child might expect their surgery and experience to be the same as the one shown in the book. This is usually not what happens. So you will need to know how their surgery and experience will be different and explain this to your child.

Other Helpful Books

Don't stop at books about going to hospital. Remember your child will have many experiences in hospital that can be scary. Hospitals are big and strange places for kids. Everything is new so even an x-ray can seem frightening to your child. By explaining things beyond just "going to hospital" your child will be more prepared about what is going to happen. 

If you aren't sure what your child will experience in hospital ask your doctor for help. Then you will know what will need to be explained. Questions like... Will my child need an x-ray? Will my child be in a private or shared room? Are all fine to ask. If it will help you explain the hospital stay to your child there's never a silly question. 

Asking questions also stops you from giving too much information to your child. Sometimes to much information can be as bad as too little. If your child will not need an x-ray there's no need to explain it to them. By sticking to what their experience will be like and the questions they have you will help them a lot. 

More than Books to Help

It's Good to Use More Than Books to Explain Things

Books are very useful for explaining hospital to your child. But children work though things so they understand them better by pretending. This means pretend play toys will work with books about hospital to help your child understand their experience. Pretending will also help them work though their feelings about going to hospital. This helps them with their fears too.

So it's important to have age-appropriate toys for hospital play before, during and after your child's trip to hospital.

It's important to read books about hospital to any child going to hospital. But it's also important to read books to their brothers and sisters. Having a brother or sister going to hospital can be scary for siblings too. So it's important to help them understand more about the experience. 

Your other children can be worried about their sibling. They can feel confused about what hospital is and why their brother or sister needs to go. They can feel worried about what happens in hospital. Their world usually changes while their sibling is in hospital because normal family routines often have to change. They miss their brother or sister. (Yes they miss them even if they fight like cat and dog.) They also miss the parent who stays with the child in hospital. These are all reasons to help them understand this experience better.

If your other children are about the same age as the child going to hospital they can read the same books. You might find having a family story time about hospital is helpful. If they are different ages you may need different books to answer their questions. The books mentioned here can all be used to explain hospital to brothers and sisters. You can also buy books especially written for siblings but When Molly Was in the Hospital is the only one I know of. 

Tips for Reading Hospital Books

How you read a book about going to hospital is just as important as which book you read. So here are some tips to help:

  1. Read the book yourself first. Do you think it will be good for your child? What questions could your child ask about the story? Is there anything in the book that you think will need a little more explaining before your child understands it? Is there anything that your child will experience differently to the character in the story? This might be something like your child having a room to themselves rather than a room with other children. (If your child will have a private room it's a good idea to explain that someone like mom or dad can stay with them so they don't imagine being "alone".) 
  2. Don't read the book to your child too soon before the surgery if they're a toddler or preschooler. A day or two before is enough. But if you think they're aware of their hospital stay or if they're asking questions already it's time to read them the book.
  3. It's a good idea to read the story to them after they come home from hospital too. Or just leave it around the house for them to look at or ask you to read it to them. Children need a winding down time after their stay. A hospital book can be useful for this and can help them understand what has happened. But if your child does not want anymore hospital stories don't force them. Just let them do things in their own time. 
  4. Reading a hospital book during the hospital stay is sometimes a bad idea. Children often have "too much" hospital while they are there. Let your child decide if they want to look at the book or not during their stay. 
  5. Read the story as many times as your child wants it. Even if it's 10 times in a row. This can be boring for you but it's important for your child's understanding. Your child will know how many times they need to hear the story and look at the book to help themselves understand. 
  6. Read the story but treat it more like a discussion. Don't start the story with the aim of getting to the end without interruptions. This won't help your child. Let them ask questions. Point out things that you think might help them. Talk about the book and how it's the same and different to their hospital stay. Use the book as a tool to help you talk about hospital not just as a story book to read.
  7. Use medical play as well as stories to help your child understand hospital. (There's some information about hospital play in this article too.) 
  8. Use more than one book. Different books have different information. So your child will probably need a different book to answer different questions. They will probably need a different book at different times. You child might also relate to one book more than another (and it's not always the book you expected).
  9. Finally I should repeat this tip. An adult the child trusts and loves like mom, dad, a grandparent or an aunt or uncle can read the book to your child IF they aren't scared of hospital themselves. If an adult with a fear of hospital (or a fear about your child's hospital stay) can pass their own fear on to the child. Let's face it. If a grown-up is scared of hospital it must be a really scary place. Not the message you want to pass on to your child before a hospital stay.
Great gift ideas for children in hospital
Which art and craft activities are good gifts for children in hospital?

Sick Kids Need to Play

Medical Play at Home

Children Going to Hospital

Distracting Children from Needles

Are X-Rays Scary for Children?

Updated: 09/01/2012, SusanM
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