After more than 30 years of working with hospitalized kids, I often field questions from family members, friends and sometimes friends-of-friends who are looking for recommendations for gifts for kids in the hospital. Being hooked up to lots of wires and, in some cases, immobile makes it difficult for patients to do normal “kid stuff.” For those unfamiliar with the hospital environment, choosing an appropriate gift can be daunting.
Some ideas sound great at first blush, but in reality aren’t a good choice for the hospital environment. For example, we don’t allow latex balloons because some patients are allergic to latex. Some patient care areas also don’t allow flowers, and stuffed animals need frequent washing to prevent the spread of germs.
- Activities for staying in bed: If a child is staying in the hospital, they likely need a lot of rest. Games and activities that can be played while sitting in bed, like LEGOs, Play-doh, toy cars, building blocks, books, puzzles, and coloring books, allow kids to be social while still getting rest.
- Room decorations: Work with the child’s teachers and friends to collect notes, create posters or draw pictures to decorate the child’s hospital room walls. Personalized decorations are a great way to brighten the room and make the child feel remembered.
- Games for the whole family: Hospital rooms can be filled with caring family members, so a gift that engages the entire family in an activity can take everyone’s minds off the hospital stay. Board games, decks of cards, crossword puzzles, art kits, DVDs and Wii games give the whole family a chance to laugh and interact.
- Personal care gifts: If a family suddenly finds themselves in the hospital, they may not have familiar personal hygiene products or comforts from home. Gifts of shampoo, toothpaste, hair accessories, lotions, soaps and accessories could provide one less thing for a family to worry about.
- Toys safe from infection: To prevent unwanted germs from entering the hospital, all toys and books brought to the hospital should be brand new, unwrapped and non-toxic.
- Errands and acts of service: When a family is in the hospital, everyday errands and chores are forced to the back burner. Mowing the lawn, washing the car, picking up groceries, helping with other siblings or cleaning the house might be the biggest way you can help a family as they focus on a child in the hospital.
- Gifts for siblings: Depending on work and childcare schedules, many siblings end up spending time in the hospital, too. A little gift goes a long way to show that you acknowledge they’re part of the journey.
- Fresh air for moms and dads: If you live near the family, offer to spend some time with the patient so that Mom or Dad can run an errand, go home to shower and get fresh clothes, or grab a meal outside the hospital cafeteria. It’s important to let them know that taking a quick break does not mean they’re neglecting their child. It’s good for their mental health to get fresh air.