Our son recently returned home following three nights in the hospital with pneumonia. He's healthy, but the experience seems to have changed him, at least temporarily:

  • He spent his entire time in isolation, not allowed to leave his room. One or both of his parents was there at all times, and I think he got used to having us around. (Typically, both parents work during the day.) Now that he's home, he wants us to still be there all the time.

  • Some of his experiences were traumatic for a toddler: having his IV put in was hellish for everyone involved. And his oxygen and albuterol treatments, which required a mask, scared him a great deal. He frequently woke up mid-nightmare, flailing his arms and shouting "Go away" to the nurses in his dreams. Now that he's home, he says he's still having bad dreams...although pre-hospital stay, he frequently used this as justification for leaving his bed and joining us in ours.

Like any 3-year-old, he is happy one moment and sad/angry the next, and I suspect that in time, he'll forget this whole episode. But we also suspect his experience at the hospital is lingering with him in negative ways. How can we help our son cope with what just happened to him?


3 Answers 3


One of the most valuable pieces of information I've picked up from parenting books comes during the introductory chapters of "The Whole-Brain Child" by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson. In it, they tell the story of a small child who witnessed his caregiver have a medical emergency in the car, which resulted in a minor accident which resulted in the caregiver being taken away in an ambulance.

They recommended that the child be allowed to reenact and retell the story, not with fantastical elements, but rather in a calm collected way. A similar approach might be helpful for your child to cope with the emotional turmoil of being hospitalized for such a long (to his mind!) period.

You: Remember how we went to the hospital when [insert some symptom here]? [Person] drove you there in [describe car]. Do you remember what shirt you wore?

You could spin this conversation further depending on how cooperative the child is. Perhaps if there was an ambulance you could ask the child to imitate the ambulance. If that's scary, perhaps have a conversation about how that's how ambulances talk, and teach them some of the different siren patterns.

Note how all of this focuses on allowing the child to express their fear, but also see something positive coming from it or interesting. You could even turn interpreting sirens into a game, where the child when they hear an ambulance tells you how urgent the situation is. Get the child to wonder about what happened, and come up with explanations.

Bottom line, having your child describe the experience in their own words will help them turn the situation into something less scary and traumatic, and into a story they can tell on their own and work out how x led to y.


My daughter spent a night in a hospital after getting into the neighbors psychiatric drugs. We didn't actually have to do anything except love her and be sensitive to her emotional state.

After we got home she played hospital with her dolls for a week or so, reenacting the IV insertion and blood drawing on a regular basis. She remembered it for a long time, but stopped reenactments on her own time.


Our 3 year old daughter had a ruptured appendix and was a few hours from dying.

She had emergency surgery and was hospitalised for 6 days.

It was a massive trauma to us all, and of course we're grateful that she's still alive and well. Not long ago we'd have been helpless....

Anyway, she's 5 and half now, and has never been able to have pink children's paracetamol since (she was having a lot post surgery) as it's the one thing that still is around from that'd point.

I'd say, if you put yourself in their shoes, you're 3, life's good, you've witnessed little trouble in general - suddenly you're in hospital, it's high tension, some strangers are poking needles into your arms, sticking masks on you... It's absolutely hellish!! Even as an adult having a cannula is far from pleasant!

So, allow them time to process it all. And yourselves. Consider that a century ago you would have had to just sit and watch them getting sicker and sicker with nothing to resolve it... In a few years, it'll be a memory. In the meantime, cut them some slack :-)

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