Preschoolers (3-5 Years) 

Helping Your Preschooler Cope With Hospitalization

Preschoolers love to play simple games, are very independent and are physically active. They tend to misunderstand words they hear, so misconceptions are common. Preschoolers have a limited ability to tell fantasy from reality and may believe, for example, that cartoon characters are real. The ability to think and to learn develops rapidly during this time.

Common hospital issues for preschoolers include the unknown; separation; fear of bodily injury and pain; and fear of loss of control. The following ideas can help parents and caregivers during their preschooler's hospital stay.


  • Bring familiar toys and objects such as a blanket, pillow, stuffed animal, doll or car, or any favorite item.
  • Listen to favorite music.
  • Watch favorite movies or cartoons.
  • Play board games.
  • Color.
  • Read with an adult.
  • Count objects.
  • Build with blocks.
  • Cut and glue.
  • Participate in group activities with other patients when possible.
  • Craft with play dough and paint.
  • Play with puppets, dolls and play house.

Medical play:

  • Play with doctor's kits and dolls.
  • Use medical supplies to make a picture.
  • Paint with syringes.
  • Let your child explore and play with safe medical supplies.
  • Read books about being in the hospital.


  • Talk with your preschooler three to four days before his or her procedure or hospital visit.
  • Use simple words without too many details.
  • Help your preschooler understand that he or she did not do anything to cause the hospitalization, procedure or surgery.
  • Encourage your preschooler to talk about his or her feelings.
  • Give your preschooler the opportunity to ask questions.
  • Read books with pictures of medical equipment.
  • Use play medical kits to allow expression of feelings.

Coping ideas:

  • Blow bubbles.
  • Spin pinwheels.
  • Read pop-up and sound books.
  • Play music and sing.
  • Count.
  • Talk about favorite things such as a pet or a favorite place.
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