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How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery


Preparing your child before surgery reduces stress by helping them know what to expect. Talking to your child about their upcoming surgery can increase their ability to cope, increase trust in our staff, help your child to cooperate, reduce fears, lessen misunderstandings and decrease behavior problems after surgery.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind when preparing your child.

Toddler (1 to 2 years old)

  • Talk with your child on the evening before or day of surgery.
  • Provide simple, honest answers to your child's questions.
  • Avoid making promises you don't have control over.
  • Focus on surgery making something better.
  • Remain calm and confident as children pick up on parent's feelings.

Preschool (3 to 5 years old)

  • Talk with your child about surgery two to three days before coming to the hospital, so he will have time to process information and ask questions.
  • Encourage your child to play with a toy medical kit and read books about coming to the hospital.
  • Use less threatening words. For example; "make a small opening," instead of "cut open" or "give you special sleepy medicine" instead of "knock you out."
  • Repeat discussions about surgery to make sure your child understands.
  • Focus on what your child will actually see, hear and feel while he is awake before and after surgery.

School-age (6 to 11 years old)

  • Begin talking to your child when the surgery is scheduled. Kids often pick up on more than we think and may misunderstand what they hear.
  • Make sure your child knows that he will be in a special sleep during the surgery and will not feel anything.
  • Let him or her know what part of her body the doctor is going to fix and why. For example; "the doctor is going to do surgery to fix the hole in your heart so you will feel better and have more energy."

Teenagers (age 12 and up)

  • Offer opportunities for your teen to be involved in surgery questions and decisions.
  • Allow for independence.
  • Validate concerns including: anesthesia, privacy and missing friends or school.
  • Answer questions honestly.

Other considerations for all ages

  • Bring a favorite toy, activity, stuffed animal or blanket. It can go with your child to the operating room and can assist during wait times.
  • Children feel secure when you feel secure. Make sure you have all you need to be comfortable.
  • Continue to answer your child's questions honestly to maintain trust. A child life specialist can help you answer questions in a way your child can understand.
  • Provide realistic choices to your child when possible to help offer a sense of control.
  • Read books about going to the hospital with your child. The Family Resource Center has books available or you can ask your child life specialist.

Preoperative Assessment and Teaching for Children's Hospital (PATCH)

You and your child have the opportunity to be better prepared for the surgical experience with a PATCH visit. A Child Life Specialist will help you and your child or teen learn about surgery in a way children learn best - through their senses. Your child will be given suggestions about what he or she can do to help the day go smoothly.

During your visit, you may meet with a Family Nurse Practitioner who will ask you questions about your child's and your family's health. He or she will also examine your child and talk with your family about the operation and anesthesia. Also during this time, a nurse will go over preoperative instructions with you and give you a copy to take with you.

Your family will visit the holding area, where you and your child will stay before and sometimes after surgery. You may also visit the recovery room, where your child may go immediately after surgery. We encourage you to ask questions and share your concerns. Brothers and sisters are invited to attend the PATCH visit.

Schedule a PATCH visit by calling (615) 936-1840.