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Preparing Your Child for Surgery

Author: Shannon Hood, CCLS
Published Date: Monday, March 19, 2018

Surgery can be frightening for both parents and children, but remember, your child depends on you for reassurance. You can help ease your child’s fears by preparing them as best you can with the following age-appropriate guidelines:

Infants

  • Stick to your baby’s routine. Keep your routine the same on the day before surgery and make sure you, your baby and your family are well rested.
  • Create a familiar environment. Try to create as much of a familiar environment for your baby as you can. Pack your baby’s favorite toy or blanket and make sure to let the nurses know what your baby’s usual schedule is, including sleep and feeding habits.
  • Plan to be with your baby as much as possible. This will reassure them that everything is okay.
  • Stay calm, do your research and ask questions. One of the most important things you can do is remain calm. Your baby will sense if you are frightened or scared. Being well-informed about what to expect will help you feel prepared and less anxious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Be patient. Your baby may be fussier than normal and may become clingy and hard to comfort and console. Remaining calm and positive can help reduce your baby’s anxiety.
  • Give lots of TLC. Give your baby lots of love and reassure them that you’ll be nearby.
  • Take care of yourself. Ask friends and family for help if needed. Try to simplify your life as much as you can during this stressful time.

Toddlers

  • Read age-appropriate books to your child about going to the hospital or having surgery.
  • Try interactive play with dolls and stuffed animals to help ease a toddler’s fear and anxiety about having surgery.
  • Give simple explanations.
  • Let your child choose which of his favorite things he would like to take to the hospital.
  • Plan to be with your child as much as possible. The presence of a familiar face will help comfort them.
  • Communicate. Let the nurses knows what your child likes and dislikes.
  • Be extra patient with your child. Give them a lot of love and reassure them you’ll be nearby.

Preschool and School-aged Children

Preschool-aged children will definitely benefit from preoperative planning, education, and explanations. Talk to your child one to two days before surgery so they have time to prepare, and consider taking a tour of the hospital.

  • Answer your child’s questions in simple terms. For example, “Yes, it may hurt a little, but it won’t last long, and I’ll be here for you the whole time.”
  • Explain to your child that they haven’t done anything wrong. It’s not uncommon for children this age to think that going to the hospital means they’ve done something wrong.
  • Speak with a CHKD child life specialist. They can explain hospitalization to your child in a way that your child understands. Child life specialists are trained to help calm your child’s fears about hospitalization.
  • Allow your child to pack his own suitcase and bring along his favorite “lovey” or comforting toy.
  • Plan to stay with your child as much as possible.
  • Be patient. School-aged children may regress and return to thumb-sucking and bed-wetting. Once the stress of being in the hospital wears off, your child’s behavior will improve.
  • Take care of yourself. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family. Stay positive and calm to help reduce your child’s stress.

Teenagers

  • Involve your teen. Teens want to be involved in making healthcare decisions. Encourage them to create a list of questions to ask their doctor.
  • Do the research. Parents and teens will benefit from learning all they can about the surgery they are going to have.
  • Child life specialists can help teens find a variety of resources.
  • Explain. Teens may not admit they don’t understand something. Parents may want to explain treatment in several different ways.
  • Encourage your teen to keep a journal of their feelings and thoughts.
  • Be patient. It’s not uncommon for teens to go through mood swings. Be patient and accept that they may want to be alone at times. Respect their privacy.
  • Remind your teen it’s okay to be afraid and cry. Offer your support and reassure them that you are there for them.
  • Be truthful when answering questions. Teens want to know and understand what’s going on with their bodies.

Take a Pre-surgery Tour at CHKD

A pre-surgery tour can help you and your child know what to expect on surgery day. Child life specialists at our hospital in Norfolk regularly host an evening tour for patients, parents, and other family members to help smooth the way for a successful surgery day experience. Studies show that children who attend a pre-surgery tour have less anxiety and fear, less pain after surgery, and better recovery time with fewer complications. Learn more about pre-surgery tours at CHKD here.

Video Tour of CHKD

We also offer a kid-friendly video tour of our hospital. This may help a child who is feeling anxious about coming to CHKD. This short video will give your child an idea of what to expect on surgery day by showing what the hospital looks like and introducing some of the people your child might meet. View the video here.

Child Life Specialists

Talk to a CHKD child life specialist. Child life specialists can explain what to expect in a way your child will understand and can help the whole family cope with the stress of surgery. Learn more about our child life services here.

Healthy Bear Has Surgery Coloring Book

Toddlers, preschool and even school-aged children may benefit from our Healthy Bear Has Surgery coloring book that helps to explain what to expect when having surgery at CHKD. Download it here.



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About Shannon Hood, CCLS

Shannon Hood has worked for CHKD for 15 years and serves as manager of CHKD’s child life program. She is a certified child life specialist as well as a certified therapeutic recreation specialist with her primary focus devoted to CHKD’s neonatal intensive care unit and CHKD’s rehabilitation program.