By Ginger Tuminello
Child Life Specialist for Heart, Kidney and Liver Transplant Patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
The holidays can be stressful, especially if your child is in the hospital. Here are some tips on making the holidays in the hospital a little more bearable.
Acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of your child.
Being in the hospital, especially over the holidays, stinks. Recognize those feelings and say them out loud to your child. Once you’ve established that you’re both sad/upset/frustrated, focus on the things that can make being in the hospital over the holidays better. Just think, one day you may be telling stories that start, “Remember that Thanksgiving we spent in the hospital and had to eat turkey from the cafeteria…”
Continue established family traditions, or some variation of them.
As a family, identify what family traditions are most important to you and find ways to continue them. If your family always goes to church on Christmas morning, find out if the hospital chapel is having a service. If you always make holiday cookies, try making holiday ornaments instead. If your child’s favorite Thanksgiving treat is pumpkin pie, have someone make and bring it to her (if dietary restrictions allow). Or simply postpone Thanksgiving dinner until your child is feeling better and out of the hospital. There are no rules that say you must eat Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving.
Create new family traditions.
Talk to your family about starting new holiday traditions. Make holiday ornaments to put on the hospital tree. Plan a holiday game night using either board games you love or finding new holiday games to play (check out http://www.coolest-christmas-holidays.com for some ideas). Make small gifts for the nursing staff. Organize a toy drive or fundraiser for hospital or organization. Your hospitalized child could always help design a flyer and plan other details.
Find out about special events and visitors offered by the hospital.
During the holidays, lots of folks enjoy volunteering and putting on special events for the hospital. Even though the local nursing home group playing hand bells may not sound very exciting, you might be surprised. Think of these events as opportunities to get out of the room, socialize, and make new holiday memories.
Start a special project with your child.
Take pictures and create a holiday scrapbook. Make holiday cards for other patients. Make gifts for family members. There are lots of inexpensive craft projects that you could do with your child that would provide hours of entertainment and bring a smile to many faces. Check out www.familyfun.com or www.craftbits.com for some great ideas.
Nothing says holidays like decorations. Bring a holiday blanket and pillowcases from home. Create holiday pictures and hang them on the walls. Get a small fake tree, decorate it, and put it on display. Get washable window paint and paint your windows. Wear festive clothing. If the room looks festive, you may find yourself in the holiday spirit. Just be sure to check with the hospital staff about policies regarding lights, hanging pictures, live plants/flowers, and window painting. And don’t forget to bring pictures of your loved ones at home.
Plan one small thing to look forward to each day.
The trouble with being in the hospital is that it gets boring and redundant. Plan something each day that you and your child can look forward to. Pick out an interesting location (i.e., gift shop, outdoor garden area) and plan for an afternoon walk there. Rent or borrow a new movie and plan for a movie night. Borrow a game you’ve never played and have a game night.
Create a schedule for visitors.
Hospital rooms can be tight quarters and too many visitors at once can be overwhelming. Creating a schedule for visitors can help limit the number of visitors and also allow you to schedule some quiet/alone time, which is important.
Find out the visitor policies.
During cold and flu season, some hospitals don’t allow siblings to visit. Find out these policies and ways to work around them. Is there a common area that the siblings can come to, like the cafeteria, so that you have time as a family? Could you use technology like Skype to communicate when you can’t be together? Try playing a game using Skype, making sure there’s a board on each end. Have your children at home and your hospitalized child write letters, send pictures, or record messages/stories often. Getting mail or email can really light up someone’s day.
Make time for yourself.
If someone offers to play with your child so that you can take a break, let them! Go for a walk, get a cup of coffee, or take a shower. Make sure that you are taking time to decompress and focus on yourself.
Use your team.
Your child life specialist, social worker, and chaplain are all great resources to help you and your family cope with hospitalized holidays. Be sure to let them know when you need something or just need to talk. They can be a great source of comfort and support.