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 from 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.
Preschoolers preparing for day surgery can enjoy this coloring and activity book that follows a boy and his teddy bear through the surgery experience.
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. Watch our Parents, Speak Up About Pain video to learn more.
- Use one of their stuffed animals to show what will happen and encourage them to ask questions and talk about their 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 them that you will be able to be with them after they wake up. If your child seems uneasy with talk about the hospital or their surgery/procedure, stop and try again later.
- Reassure them that having to go to the hospital does not mean they have 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, they can be told that they are going to the hospital and what will happen there. It is important to let them express their feelings. Give them 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 them to talk.
Let them be the doctor to a doll or stuffed toy. They can "operate" on it, give it "shots" or just apply a Band-Aid. They might express their feelings more clearly while they’re playing than if you ask them directly.
Reassure your child that you'll stay with them when you can and that other people will take care of them if you can't be with them.
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 after the surgery doctors, nurses and other people at the hospital will do certain tests and procedures to make them feel better and make sure that they are healing from the 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 their doctors and nurses about their condition. Be sure they are included in discussions and decisions about their care so that they will feel independent and more in control.
Your teen may be worried about their privacy. Reassure them that the hospital staff will treat them 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 your teen's 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.