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Tips for Hospitalized Toddlers

Play in the hospital makes the hospital environment less scary and more child-friendly. It also encourages children and adolescents to focus on activity, rather than on their illness. At WakeMed, we know children and adolescents are constantly learning and developing. Engaging in activities and socializing with others helps the growth and development process continue while in the hospital. 

Always remember, Child Life Specialists are trained in teaching children and adolescents about medical procedures and helping them cope. They are a resource for you and your family.

Play for toddlers

  • Stacking objects and knocking them down
  • Putting objects in a container and dumping them out
  • Playing with toys that make noise or play music
  • Scribbling with crayons

Social interactions

  • Toddlers can understand simple commands.
  • Toddlers like saying, "NO" — Give options between two things rather than yes or no questions.
  • Toddlers have extremely short attention spans — keep this in mind as you talk to your child about the hospital (give small pieces of information at a time).
  • Older toddlers can use words to make requests.

Common stressors and fears for toddlers in the hospital

  • Fear of strangers and new places
  • Separation anxiety from parents and a fear of being abandoned
  • Fear of moving with medical equipment connected to them
  • Fear of losing control and autonomy

What you can do to help while your toddler is in the hospital

  • Be present and participate in your toddler's care as much as possible.
  • Offer choices when appropriate. For instance, taking medications is not a choice, but drinking the medicine through a cup or syringe is a choice your child can make on his/her own.
  • Allow your child to carry security objects to procedures (blanket, stuffed animal).
  • Comfort him/her by singing, using encouraging words or whatever works best for your child.
  • Toddlers are building a sense of autonomy — encourage them to play and do things on their own.
  • Understand that toddlers may regress in recent developmental skills (potty training, sleeping through the night) or act like infants in the hospital. They will regain their developmental progress when they become less stressed or when they go home.