Six Tips for Parents of Kids Hospitalized During the Holidays by Dr. Whiteman, MD, FACEP, FAAP

Many children end up having to stay in the hospitals during the holidays. For children who are immunocompromised, the hospital can present unique challenges including strict infection control rules that can make it difficult for families to ensure their kids experience holiday joy and cheer.

Dr. Whiteman, MD, FACEP, FAAP, understands a parents’ struggle. Her youngest child, Nico, was hospitalized over 15 years ago during the holidays due to complications of a fever related to chemotherapy for Wilms Tumor, a type of kidney cancer that is primarily a childhood cancer.

Based on her professional and personal experience, Dr. Whiteman provides six resources for parents of hospitalized kids during the holidays:

  • Allow others to help you throughout your child's hospital stay

It is helpful if you can make arrangements to stay with your child during their hospitalization. However, hospitalization may spread into days. It is a difficult time as many aspects of your child’s healthcare may be out of your control. Allow others to help and support you.

When my child was hospitalized, other parents from Nico’s school would come to the hospital to spend time and read a book to Nico. This gave me a break to freshen up or even get a cup of coffee.

  • Bring the holidays to your child’s bedside

As hard as it is to have a child in the hospital during the holidays, it is even harder for them. There are ways for you to bring the joy of the holidays to your child’s bedside. Talk with your hospital staff to see what is possible to bring into the hospital environment.

I remember Nico being upset about being hospitalized during the holidays, but the hospital staff went out of their way to make sure the holiday was extra special. When I see a particular staff member at the hospital over 15 years later, I still let him know how special it was to bring holiday cheer into Nico’s hospital room.

  • Consider investing in items that will make the hospital stay more comfortable

Each hospital will have its individual challenges. Looking back on my personal hospital and cancer center experiences, a noise cancellation device and eyeshades made the experience more comfortable.

A noise cancellation device can cancel out the sound of the IV equipment and other loud sounds. While you could use your phone, it is nice to have a separate device. Because hospitals are quite well lit, you may want eyeshades.

These may seem like little things, but they go a long way in terms of comfort.

  • Ask guests at large indoor gatherings to take necessary safety precautions

Let guests know that your child is immunocompromised and ask that they would be willing to accommodate restrictions for the safety of your child.

Request that those who are sick not to attend or at least wear a mask and wash their hands. If guests won’t accommodate those requests, then you may have to have an honest discussion with your child about skipping the event or staying in a different area where the festivities are.

  • Be open to resources that can support you and your family

When Nico was diagnosed with cancer, it was overwhelming. Not only is the diagnosis overwhelming, but also having to ‘keep it together ’for your child and other child(ren).

I remember telling my older child, “I know you can read the sign on the wall which says ‘Cancer Center’.” I then had to quickly explain that their sibling had cancer, and that not everyone who has cancer dies.

During that visit, I was given information about a lot of resources. It took a while to review those resources and take advantage of their services.

Letting trusted organizations, like Starlight, into your life is invaluable.

  • Find outlets of enjoyment and happiness to support your child’s mental well-being

Challenges hospitalized kids face include feeling isolation, loneliness, and anxiety.

While children may not be able to do activities they typically enjoy, hospital-approved Starlight Programs such as Starlight Toy Deliveries and Starlight Gaming give kids fun and provide kids emotional support. These programs reconnect kids to what is familiar in their home life and redirect their focus to something fun and enjoyable, improving their overall mental well-being.

It is important for kids to live their life and continue to enjoy it, doing activities that bring them happiness.

When children are hospitalized, “there are only some elements one can control and do the best with that to maintain a safe and pleasant environment ,” says Dr. Whiteman.

Starlight exists to help hospitalized children cope with confidence. By delivering happiness, Starlight programs enhance kids’ resilience and helps them maintain a positive outlook, making the hospital an easier place for them to be.

Consider giving happiness to a hospitalized child by donating to a Starlight program.

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