How to prepare your child for surgery

October 16, 2017 Providence Health Team

No one likes going under the knife. With all of the questions we, as adults, have about surgery and unknown outcomes, it’s completely understandable for young children to be worried, anxious and even scared during their first time. Whether it’s an emergency or an elective procedure, give your child the peace of mind they need to approach the experience with confidence. Here are some tips:

  • Explain the need. It’s important that your child feels that the surgery isn’t their fault. Despite their illness, they need to feel that the purpose of the day is to make them feel better and improve their quality of life. Some children feel guilty or anxious around how they could have avoided the experience, especially if the surgery is a result of an accident. Explaining exactly why they need the surgery and how it will help them is crucial for removing any feelings of self-doubt and worry.
  • Ask questions. As much as your child wants to know what’s going to happen on the day of the surgery, you probably have just as many questions. If you can, speak to the doctor who will be performing the surgery and get their insight. The more information you and your child know, the better.
  • Use the right language. You don’t want to scare your child any more than he or she already is. Instead of saying, “The surgeon is going to use a knife to cut your arm,” try saying “The doctor is going to fix your arm so you’ll feel better.” Use the same level of care when discussing injections or gas that ‘put you to sleep.’
  • Share visuals. Sometimes it helps to explain surgery in a fun, interactive way. Use dolls, picture books or stuffed animals to show exactly where and how the surgery will happen. On the day of the surgery, your child will remember how you played pretend and it will be useful in quelling any fears.
  • Take a pre-operative tour. While a pre-operative tour isn’t available for kids who need emergency surgery, most hospitals offer the service for elective procedures. These tours usually involve a specialist escorting your child around the surgical areas and educating them about the experience using age-appropriate language. Knowing what to expect is so valuable in ensuring your kid feels good about their upcoming procedure.
  • Bring reminders of home. Depending on the length of recovery, try letting your kid pack a small day or overnight bag so they can bring reminders of home with them. Being away from the comfort of their room can be a scary experience, so you’ll want to fill their hospital stay with lots of friendly treasures.

The best coping method you can share with your child is to offer support, guidance and most of all, love. Remember to be patient and honest with them. Helping them through the experience will also go a long way in relieving some of the stress and anxiety you may be feeling as well.

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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