How to Talk to
Hospitalized Children

There are things you can say to provide comfort.Some hospital visitors struggle with what to say to patients, especially when that hospitalized person is a child. We want to show that we care and wish them the best, but sometimes “get well soon” is not appropriate.

Many of the babies, kids and teens at Children’s have a serious health concern that requires long-term care, like cancer. Others have more minor reasons for being in the hospital—maybe they broke their arm or needed stitches. And some kids look perfectly healthy on the outside, but they’re managing a condition like diabetes that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

No matter the reason, we can never assume that a patient will “get well soon.” Still, there are things you can say to provide comfort.

My colleagues in Child Life and Volunteer Services at Children’s make these suggestions to hospital visitors and volunteers:

Bring a smile to a patient. Send a SmileGram.

Send a SmileGram to a friend or family member who is a patient at our hospitals. We will deliver your message within 24 to 48 hours.

These are always OK:

  • Thinking of you!
  • Miss you!
  • Best wishes!

It is a good idea to:

  • Ask permission before touching a patient or sitting on their bed.
  • Offer to bring the child something, such as games or DVDs.
  • Avoid forcing a child to speak. Sometimes not speaking is the only thing they can control.
  • Include the patient in conversations and make eye contact. Even though you may be speaking to the parent or nurse, if the patient is in the room, he is hearing what you are saying.
  • Ask the child what they want to do. Do not assume the child wants to play, read or do the activity you have planned.
  • Ask a child life specialist for advice if you are unsure of what to do or say. They receive special training on how to support children during stressful experiences and procedures.

Avoid saying:

  • “Get well soon”—The child may not be getting better.
  • “Looking forward to you coming home” or “I hope you’re home soon.”—They may not be able to go home.
  • “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you in the hospital?”—These can be very personal questions.
  • Religious statements such as, “your prayers will be answered.”—Spiritual references can be comforting if you know or share the religious background of the patient. However, others may not share the same beliefs, or they may take well-meaning sayings the wrong way.

How to Talk to Parents of Hospitalized Children

When you are visiting a children’s hospital, often the parents need emotional support, too. Keep these tips in mind when talking to parents:

  • Ask, “What can I do to help you?” This may include providing childcare, picking up kids at school, preparing a meal, doing laundry, sitting with a child, etc.
  • Wait for parents to offer medical updates, versus asking direct questions.
  • Do not ask the million-dollar question: “When are you going home?”
  • Ask for permission before adding to prayer groups or posting on Facebook or other social media sites.