Help Your Child Prepare for Surgery

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Child Life Specialists

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The following information may help you prepare your child for surgery.

  • Infants: It is not possible to explain the surgery or hospitalization process to an infant. However, by preparing yourself as a parent or caregiver you will help your infant cope. Children under the age of 1 rely on parental cues in stressful situations. By remaining calm and confident, your infant is more likely to stay relaxed during the surgical experience. Bringing familiar items from home (such as teething toys, stuffed animal or a blanket) will enhance your infant's sense of normalcy. Talk to your healthcare team and ask questions about the surgery process to prepare yourself as much as possible.
  • Toddlers 1 to 3 years: Avoid telling your child about surgery more than one or two days in advance. At this age toddlers are trying to develop a sense of control, and are learning to understand the world around them. Allow them to feel a sense of control by letting them choose a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket to bring with them to the hospital. Realize that your child may become fussier than normal as time approaches and expect behavioral changes. Try to remain patient and calm because just as with infants, this age group still looks to their parents on how to react in a new situation. Our playrooms/waiting areas serve as child-friendly distractions during the pre-operative process.
  • Preschoolers are curious at this age and want to know what to expect. Resist the urge to "protect" them by withholding information. Preparation is necessary. Tell your child about the upcoming surgery 2 to 3 days in advance. Preschoolers have vivid imaginations so use simple words and reassuring explanations. Avoid the details, but remain honest. Children at this age often view hospitalization as a form of punishment, so reinforce the idea that they did not do anything wrong to cause the surgery. Use simple language, read books related to the hospital (I.e. Curious George Goes to the Hospital), and play with medical kits to help prepare your child.
  • School-Aged Children 6 to 12 years old require more detailed information regarding their upcoming surgery. This age group often worries about how surgery might change the way their body looks. Encourage your child to pack his or her own suitcase and to include a comfort item such as a handheld game, a pillow, blanket, or favorite activity that might help your child cope during the recovery process. Let them know what to expect before, during and after surgery. Be prepared to answer your child's questions and talk to them about their fears and concerns. Remember, honesty is key.
  • Adolescents/teens need to be included in all discussions and decisions about their hospitalization. This age group is striving for independence and surgery often makes them feel more dependent and helpless. Try to give your teenager a sense of control throughout the hospitalization. Respect their need for privacy and be supportive of their thoughts and feelings. They may have concerns they don't want to share with you. Remind your teen to bring a comfort item such as a favorite pillow, iPod, cell phone, handheld game, activity, or book to help them cope during the pre-op and post-op phases.

Pre-op tours with a child life specialist are available to all patients that anticipate an upcoming surgery. Tours are offered to discuss the surgery process, prepare children and teens in a developmentally appropriate way that will help address your child's unique questions or concerns. Please call Child Life Services at 206-386-6283 to set up a tour or to discuss the surgery process in order to better prepare your child or adolescent.