Preparing your child

Child life specialists.

Planning for your child's health care experience may come with some uncertainties. You may be worried about your child's health and how he or she will handle medical experiences. Even though you may feel hesitant to share information with your child about upcoming care, children are ultimately better able and more willing to cooperate and cope when they feel prepared.

You are a key member of your child's care team. Use the advice below to plan ahead to help your child feel prepared for medical experiences.


It's important to consider your child's developmental level as you determine the best time to share information to help her or him feel prepared. Take into account your child's personality and age in deciding on the best time to share information. Consider these recommendations:

  • Infants and toddlers: The evening before or day of the appointment.
  • Preschool age: Two to three days before the appointment.
  • School age: When the appointment is scheduled.
  • Teens: When an appointment is possible or expected, involve them in questions and decision-making.

Honest and simple

Start by sharing honest and simple information with your child about what to expect, in words and ways that match age and development.

  • Build and maintain trust by telling your child the truth.
  • Give your child a sense of control and a place on the team by helping them know what's going on with their bodies.
  • Focus on what your child needs to know and needs to do, knowing that giving them some information does not mean they need all of the details.
  • Trust that kids are curious and will often ask questions beyond simple explanations if they need to know more.
  • Be careful not to assume that your child doesn't know, already knows or wouldn't understand.
  • Be aware that kids often hear what's being said, even when it looks like they aren't listening.
  • Consider that some kids may fill in the gaps with ideas that aren't true and may seem scary.
  • Consider sharing this information with your child:
    • Why your child needs to go through this medical experience
    • What your child needs to do and what will happen
    • Where this medical experience will occur
    • Who will be with your child and who your child may meet
    • When this medical experience will start and how long it will last
    • How your child might feel during this medical experience and afterwards

Also, encourage your child to ask questions and express his or her feelings throughout this process.

Play and practice

Kids learn through play. Playtime and casual time together can be an opportunity to share medical information with children. Play is familiar and fun for children, allowing them to feel relaxed as they process shared information and experience it through play. How the information is shared depends, in part, on your child's age:

  • Age 2 years to 7 years old. You can practice playing "doctor" with dolls or other figures. You can model what will be expected of them and then allow your child to try to be the one in charge.
  • Age 8 years and up. You can play a board game with your older child or ride bikes together and talk about medical experiences. This allows your child to move in and out of difficult parts of the conversation, while having an easy outlet for processing.
Child life specialists.

Packing for success

Arrive at your appointment well prepared. Read paperwork to verify arrival time and instructions, such as whether or not your child can eat or what type of fluids they may have. Call your provider ahead of time if anything is unclear. Know that health care experiences can involve long wait times.

Help yourself and your child feel prepared by bringing:

  • A comfort item, such as a stuffed animal, a blanket or a special toy
  • Toys, books, games or coloring books to keep your child busy while you wait
  • Snacks for yourself and your child — unless your child is required to fast or should not eat or drink anything for medical reasons or because of upcoming tests or procedures
  • Mobile devices and related items, such as a cellphone, tablet or charger (verify the privacy policy when you arrive)
  • Any additional medical information and a notebook to keep track of new medical information and questions

If you have other children or care for any adults, it may be helpful to make other arrangements for them while you're with your child during appointments or a hospitalization.

Contact us

Contact Mayo Clinic's Child Life Program for additional resources and ideas or to request a tour of areas involved in your child's health care: Call 507-255-4091 or email

Caroline Tourdot, a certified child life specialist, explains how Mayo Clinic's Child Life Program can reduce stress and enhance your child's medical experience.