We know that a surgery or procedure is a big event for you and your child. Talking together about your visit ahead of time may help your child feel less afraid.
Remember, your experience with hospitals may be very different than what your child will experience.
Seattle Children’s has a variety of resources to help you talk to your child about their surgery. Call your community doctor or the Children’s specialty clinic that referred your child for surgery to get all the information you need.
Tips on Preparing Your Child
From check-in to discharge, follow the colorful photo story of an outpatient day surgery here at Children's. Written by Child Life specialists, this helpful booklet can lessen worry and spark conversation.
Here are some more tips to help your child feel safer about their upcoming visit:
- Have your child plan their visit by filling out the Surgery Day Plan in the What to Expect on Your Surgery Day booklet (above).
- Listen to your child.
- Be honest about what will happen and what may hurt.
- Use short, simple terms they know.
- Reassure them that if something hurts, there are ways to help the pain, including medicine, relaxation, listening to music and playing games.
- Use one of their stuffed animals to show what will happen and encourage him to ask questions and talk about his fears.
- Explain that they will have special medicine to help them fall asleep for the surgery, and that they will wake up when the surgery or procedure is over.
- Reassure that you will be able to be with them after they wake up If your child seems uneasy with talk about the hospital or his surgery/procedure, stop and try again later.
- Reassure them that having to go to the hospital does not mean he has done something wrong.
Helping Children of Different Ages
A child understands things based on his age and developmental level. You probably have many ideas of your own. Here are some of ours that you might also find helpful:
Infants and toddlers
Infants and toddlers need to have familiar objects around them at the hospital. Bring along your child's favorite toy, blanket or other comfort items. A family member or friend can be with your child during visiting hours if you must be away from the hospital or need a break.
As child gets older, he can be told that he is going to the hospital and what will happen there. It is important to let him express his feelings. Give him clear and simple responses.
Saying "I'll bet you're wondering what it's going to be like at the hospital, aren't you?" rather than, "How do you feel?" will encourage him to talk.
Let him be the doctor to a doll or stuffed toy. He can "operate" on it, give it "shots" or just apply a Band-Aid. He might express his feelings more clearly while he's playing than if you ask him directly.
Reassure your child that you'll stay with him when you can and that other people will take care of him if you can't be with him.
Many of our suggestions for younger children are helpful with this age group. However, these children understand more than younger children and will ask more questions. Explain that the hospital treats children of all ages, with many different medical problems.
It's important to explain that, following his surgery, doctors, nurses and other people at the hospital will do certain tests and procedures to make him feel better and make sure that he is healing from his surgery.
Teenagers are able to understand more information about their surgery, but that doesn't mean they completely understand. They may, however, be reluctant to ask questions.
Encourage your teenager to talk to his doctors and nurses about his condition. Be sure he is included in discussions and decisions about his care so that he will feel independent and more in control.
Your teen may be worried about his privacy. Reassure him that the hospital staff will treat him with respect. Even at this age, a familiar object, journal, video or favorite tape or CD can help your teen feel calmer at the hospital.
When appropriate, encourage visits from his friends for peer support.
Here are more resources and books (PDF) on how to prepare children of all ages for a surgery or hospital stay.