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10 Things to Pack For Your Child’s Hospital Stay

10 Things to Pack For Your Child’s Hospital Stay

I’m one of those loyal customers, the kind who likes to stay at the same place over and over again. The rewards program is pretty good – I get a few benefits. Perks include upgraded rooms, no waiting in lines and special treatment, like extra linens, free coffee and being allowed to stay in the room during change-of-shift. Wait, what?

You guessed it. We get points with every hospital stay. Both our children are diagnosed with congenital heart defects #CHD (among other diagnoses). We’ve had more open-heart surgeries and heart procedures than we can count. Our baby girl stayed in the NICU for several months after her birth; she stayed three months after just one of her surgeries. Once, she stayed so long, I had to call AAA to get my car battery jumped when she was discharged. I’m not going to lie: it sucks having a child in the hospital (no matter how minor or serious the diagnosis.) It doesn’t matter the age, most children loathe the hospital. Being a frequent flier, we’ve learned a few things along the way. There may not be a pool or spa, but there is room service and turn-down service at the push of a button. Here’s what to bring to  make the most of your child’s hospital stay:

1. Personal electronics (cell phone, tablet, laptop, e-reader)

Anything and everything that allows you to communicate with the outside world. Most hospitals have free WiFi so be sure to utilize it rather than using your own data. It’s a good idea to have a good virus protection software as well because the WiFi is public (i.e.: probably not the best time to do your online banking). You also need these devices to keep your child busy, entertained and/or relaxed as the hours tick.

2. An extension cord

For real. There’s nothing more aggravating than having to stop in the middle of a movie to plug in your laptop wayyyyyy over there, by the window in the corner of the room, when your child is stuck in bed wayyyyy over here. Be sure to plug electronics into the right outlet. Don’t plug things into red outlets. Save those for hospital stuff. Also, be sure to bring a household cord and not one of those humongous orange commercial ones. It’s a good idea to pick one with a couple of outlets, because – ya know – you need to check Facebook on your phone when your child is watching Frozen for the 347th time.

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3. The right apps (already downloaded)

WHITE NOISE! Find a good white noise app and load it to everything (darn batteries). Hospitals are NOT quiet at night. Whether it’s the staff talking (and laughing and calling out to each other) or it’s the machines beeping in your room or the rooms next door, white noise cranked up will help drown out unwanted sounds. Rain, fan, vacuum… anything plain works awesome. Other apps include voice command (like when you need information fast because you’re snooping and listening to the doctors as they round near the door), games for your child that don’t take too much space, a medical dictionary, a voice recorder in case you need to take notes on something, a flashlight, and your e-mail app.

4. THE list

The list of medications, if any, your child is currently taking. Not only the names, but the doses and concentrations. We have a sheet of paper that has our daughter’s diagnoses (simplified), some of her main surgeries, the names and phone numbers of her main physicians, my husband and my name and phone number, and our medical insurance information. Below this is her schedule of medications so the nurses/physicians know EXACTLY what and when she takes every day. And do everyone a favor – when you list a medication, give the trade name and generic name, the dosage units (which is usually the number after the name and in milligrams or grams or some measure), the administration units (how much your child is supposed to take – like 1 tablet), and any concentration/dosage strength. This is really important.

For example: Furosemide – Lasix, 20mg Tablet, Give 1/2 tablet by mouth 3 times a day. 7am, 1pm, 7pm  (Doctors will want to know this child takes 20 mg Lasix three times a day, whereas you probably say your child takes Lasix three times a day) See the difference?

Seriously. This is SUPER HELPFUL. Make copies and keep it updated with every change.

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5. Second favorite toy/blanket/lovie

I say second because… things get lost. You switch rooms. Bed linens get changed regularly. Emergencies happen. It would be a tragedy if the FAVE lovie went into the trash outside the hospital or into the big washers on the bottom floor (and then in the trash.) If you absolutely have to, then go ahead and bring the numero uno. Just put a piece of tape on it with child’s name. If your child is younger, use a Band Aid and a sharpie and pretend the toy has an owie, too.

6. Personal toiletries

For you and your child. Whatever you both use on your face, your teeth, your hair and your hands, bring it. Baby wipes/face wipes are amazing. Zip Lock those bad boys and label the bag with your child’s name. If you are going to have a long stay and showers are involved, bring a set of cheap flip-flops for the shower. I’m not kidding.

Tip: Ask for a BIG stack of wash cloths and a few extra towels the minute you get settled in the room. You’ll use wash cloths for everything. If the nurse won’t bring them, ask the support staff. We always make friends with the people who clean the room and thank them when they provide us with linens every day without even asking.

7. Books, movies, head phones/ear buds (2 sets) and activities to do in bed

Books are great, but you will probably be reading more than your child. Hospital kids don’t feel well and it takes brain power to read. Most of the time, movies are entertaining and don’t require energy. Even my read-a-holic son prefers movies in the hospital. The hospital has a great collection of DVDs (ask the Child Life Services dept where to find them), but if your child has a favorite (Jurassic World!!!), be sure to bring it along. Headphones are great. Ear buds work as well, but they always break for us and then we’re stuck without them so I always bring a few sets. Note: Hospitals have DVD players, sometimes in the rooms, but in our experience, they’re broken more often than not so we bring a laptop.

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Things like clay kits, old-school card/domino houses, nail design, bracelet-making kits, etc. work well. Anything that can be done on a tray table while sitting in bed. Warning: be careful with projects that contain tiny items like beads because IV and monitor wires/leads will knock things over. 10 million plastic beads in your child’s bed is no fun!

8. Treats/Thank You’s for the staff

A little goes a long way. We bring thank you cards and fancy pens and write notes when someone does something super helpful or goes out of her way. We give them when we’re being discharged. We have “hospital friends” who bring bags of candy to offer the nurses. Hey, if you’re going to Starbucks, ask your nurse if he/she wants something. You’ll get special treatment for life!! It’s your choice, but even a nice note or picture from your child is nice.

9. Pictures (printed)

It’s important your child feel like he or she is still part of the real world. Pictures of family, friends and pets are important. Use a scrapbook, tape them to the side of the bed (if allowed) or the walls or just go through the loose photos. Share stories. Some kids feel sad and homesick, as if the world is going on without them. Pictures help keep them grounded in their worlds.

10. Anything that provides comfort

This applies to you and your child. Loose, comfortable clothing because you’ll be sitting around, kicking up your feet and getting into strange positions on those awful hospital chairs. Sweaters or cozy sweatshirts because hospitals are cold! If your child is allowed to wear regular clothes instead of a hospital gown, make sure the clothes are loose enough for all the stickers, leads, monitor wires and IV lines have room to move. Slippers are great for short walks, trips to the bathroom or lazy walks to the cafeteria when it’s been so many days you don’t care what people think anymore.

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For nighttime, many parents like to bring a cot mat or piece of foam to lie on when sleeping on the chair-fold-into-bed thing. Some people bring their own pillows.

Snacks or homemade food, but ONLY if it’s approved by your child’s doctor. It’s very helpful, though, to have snacks or food on hand for you. You’ll save money, it’s healthier (you don’t keep running to the vending machine) and you don’t have to leave the room to go somewhere (because some days are worse than others and you can’t leave.)

Bonus: Bring your sense of humor. You will need to laugh when things get rough. Bring your strength. You’ll need it and so will your child. Bring your courage. Sometimes you need to be an advocate. Sometimes YOU know better and you’ll need to speak up. Bring your patience. Hospitals are busy. Nurses are human. Most of all, bring all your love and attention. Your child is scared, even if he/she doesn’t show it.

Featured photo credit: Tiberiu Ana via flickr.com

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Missy Mitchell

Author, Artist, Advocate

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

Signs of depression in children

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

  • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
  • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
  • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
  • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

How to help your child with depression

Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

Testing

There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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  • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
  • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
  • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

Therapy

There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

3. Limit screen time.

Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

6. Help your child reduce life stress.

When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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    Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

    15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

    Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

    16. Talk about bullying.

    It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

    17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

    Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

    18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

    Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

    Depression in children is curable

    Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

    Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

    Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

    The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
    [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
    [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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