How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery

It's important for you to prepare yourself first, ask your child's doctor or nurse about any questions or concerns you may have so you will feel comfortable preparing your child. Children can sense their parents' emotions, and if they feel that you are worried, they too may become anxious or worried.

  • Be honest. Using language your child can understand, explain why he/she will be coming to the hospital. Remind your child that they did not cause their illness/injury, and this is not a punishment.
    • Toddlers (1-2): talk with your toddler one day before surgery, using simple language let them know surgery is going to make something better or fix something
    • Preschoolers (3-5): talk with preschoolers 2-3 days before surgery so they have time to ask questions. Focus on the senses, what will your child see, hear, feel, smell and taste before and after surgery. Discuss what is going to be ‘fixed' and that he/she will go to sleep with special sleepy air so he/she won't feel anything.
    • Choose your words wisely, you may say: bed on wheels instead of stretcher, sleepy air instead of anesthesia, or make a small opening rather than cut open, etc.
    • Children at this age may think they have caused this to happen, and may believe that surgery is a punishment; reinforce to your child that he/she has not done anything to cause the illness or injury
    • School age (6-11): begin talking to school age children several days or a week or two before. Help your child understand what is going to be fixed and why; assure them that they will be asleep so they won't feel anything during the surgery. Encourage them to ask questions and voice any worries or concerns.
    • Adolescents: talk to your teen when the surgery is scheduled and discuss why the surgery is needed and what is going to happen. Allow teens to be active participants in their care allowing them to maintain a sense of independence.
  • There are many children's books that you may find at your local library about coming to the hospital that you and your child may read together to help prepare for the experience.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions, answer them honestly and if you are not sure of the answer, tell your child you do not know but you will find out.
  • Remember to give your child appropriate choices, i.e. what to wear to the hospital, which stuffed animal, blanket, favorite toy or activity to bring.
  • Don't forget, your child should not have anything to eat or drink after a certain time the night before surgery, as instructed by your child's doctor. However, you may want to bring an empty bottle or sippy cup for your child to use AFTER surgery. Please store it somewhere that your child will not see it or find it, as children are typically easily distracted when they are reminded of eating/drinking, and as a result become very upset.

If you feel that your child is feeling especially anxious about coming to the hospital you may contact the Child Life Department for additional tips, resources, or to schedule a tour. Child Life Specialists are members of the healthcare team devoted to helping children and families cope with the hospital experience, through teaching and preparation, medical play, therapeutic activities and developmental play.

You may contact the Child Life Department a 765-8861.