When your child has been scheduled for surgery, how you communicate with them in the weeks and days leading up to the surgery can make a world of difference in their overall comfort. Here are 10 strategies to help prepare your child for surgery.

  1. Keep a consistent routine at home leading up to surgery. Try to stick to your child’s normal sleep/wake times, school attendance and mealtimes as much as possible.
  2. Introduce the topic of surgery to your child at age-appropriate times:
    • Teens ages 12-18 will appreciate being involved in the planning process for their surgery.
    • Younger children ages 6-11 may need 1-2 weeks advance notice so they can mentally prepare.
    • Preschoolers and toddlers have less of a concept of time, so giving them a few days’ notice will help give them time to process what’s coming and ask any questions they may have.
    • Be sure to avoid discussing the surgery at your child’s bedtime.
  1. Provide honest and simple answers to your child’s questions. Reassure them that their nurses, doctors and anesthesiologists will take good care of them, and that you’ll be there with them before and after the surgery.
  2. Focus on the positive outcomes of your child’s surgery. “After your knee is fixed, and you recover from surgery, you’ll be able to run faster.”
  3. Read books and engage in playtime about going to the hospital. Choose from a variety of books available to help prepare children for surgery or play with a toy medical kit. Older kids may also want to research the specific procedure they’ll have, so you can help them find resources to learn about it. Talk with your child about what their body may look like after surgery, explaining what stitches are and how they may have bandages for their boo-boos.
  4. Ask your child to explain why they are having surgery and provide child-friendly terms for items they will see at the hospital. Hearing their perception of what’s going to happen to them will give you an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions they may have. Among the items you can tell them about are:
    • Stretcher: “Bed with wheels”
    • Blood pressure cuff: “Arm hug”
    • Anesthesia: “Sleepy medicine”
    • IV: “A tiny straw that helps give your body medicine and water”
    • Operating room: “Where doctors help you while you sleep”
    • Recovery room: “Wake up room”
  1. Encourage your child to bring comfort items to the hospital on the day of the surgery. Children may have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal that provides them with a sense of safety. Parents of infants can bring a familiar bottle or sippy cup for after the surgery. Include them in picking out comfortable clothes to wear home (pajamas or other soft clothes) after their surgery, as well.
  2. Explain what it means to fast before surgery. Make sure your child eats and drinks normally before adhering to the pre-surgical fasting rules for their procedure. Let your child know they will be given some snacks while they are in the recovery area after they wake up from their surgery.
  3. Plan quiet activities for your child’s recovery period, for the hospital and at home. Take your child to pick out new crayons or activity books, download a couple of movies or favorite TV shows to their tablet if they have one, and bring cards or other games they enjoy.
  4. Include your child’s siblings in a conversation about how to support their sibling who is having surgery. As much as possible, allow siblings to be involved in their brother or sister’s care at home. Siblings feel included when they are assigned tasks that are helpful to the family. Try to keep family routines as normal as possible.

Remember, the specialists who will help your child during and after their surgery are specifically trained to care for children. If you have questions before your child’s surgery, don’t hesitate to reach out to the hospital staff to get answers.

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