Every year unsuspecting and very disappointed parents find themselves trying to give their sick kid a happy holiday from within hospital walls – a challenge that you can help with. With the holidays upon us, here are a few tips FOR and FROM health care providers on ways to help make the holidays special for your patients and families.


Help families normalize their holiday in the hospital by encouraging them to keep their favorite traditions. Help them create time and space to honor Christmas Hanukkah or Kwanzaa festivities. Try to accommodate the special requests for meals, prayer times, movies, extended visitation and decorating. Encourage them to include siblings and the whole family in their hospitalized holiday as much as possible.

2. Parent advocacy

Don’t forget when it comes to how kids experience the holidays, parents are in charge. So much of what’s happening medically is out of the parent and child’s control, but the holiday shouldn’t be. Hospitals get a lot of donations during the holidays – be mindful of giving donations to patients without consulting parents. Maybe they aren’t planning for their 6-year-old daughter to get a caboodle filled with makeup or for their 12-year-old to get Call of Duty…18? The point is, even though intentions are good, make sure hospital staff isn’t “doing Christmas for the family.” Parents should have the final say in all things holiday.

3. Environment

When you can’t be at home, the next best thing is to make it feel like home. Let your patients and families know it’s okay to bring their favorite decorations, stuffed animals, blankets, movies, games and other familiar items of comfort.

4. Throw a party

We aren’t suggesting that anyone go popping open the champagne, but it’s important for patients to have a little family fun together. If possible, engage with volunteers to throw a holiday party for your families. If you can’t throw a party or you have patients who can’t attend, talk to the parents about throwing one in their room – a few games, holiday crafts, and most importantly time with the whole family can go a long way.

5. Teenagers Special Needs

Encourage and support families to create special opportunities for teen socialization. If possible, encourage visits from friends to watch a movie, eat pizza, have a craft night, exchange gifts or just “hang out.”

6. Child Life or Social Workers?

If your hospital has Child Life Specialists or Social Workers, consult with them on the special needs of your families! They understand what children and families are going through, and how to meet unique and individual needs. They focus on helping kids understand what’s happening, provide opportunities for play and creative expression, and can be an integral part in ensuring families navigate their holiday in the hospital as gracefully as possible.

Having a child in the hospital is never a walk in the park, and can be especially challenging during the holidays. Healthcare providers have a unique opportunity to help make a challenging holiday admission festive, fun and family-oriented.