Preparing your child for surgery: Age-appropriate tips

Having surgery – even if it’s an outpatient procedure – can be a scary thing for kids. Le Bonheur’s Child Life team is trained to help reduce the stress and anxiety of a hospital visit for children and families.

If your child is having surgery at Le Bonheur, share this preparation video with him or her. The child-friendly five-minute clip helps explain what they might see and experience during their trip.

Some of the team’s best tips for preparing your child and family for surgery include:

  • Infant: Keep your baby’s routine as normal as possible, and let the nursing staff know your baby’s schedule. As a parent, it is important to remain calm and patient you’re your baby. Your baby will be able to sense if you are frightened or stressed, so positive assurance, gestures and a calm voice or touch can mean everything to your baby. The brief period before surgery when the baby cannot eat or drink can be difficult. Plan to distract, rock, walk and comfort your baby during this time.
  • Toddler: Read books about going to the hospital, and use interactive play with dolls and stuffed animals. Give simple explanations and be careful of the words you use. Let your child bring a security item from home and a favorite book to help pass the time before surgery. It is normal for toddlers to cry and be fussy, clingy, angry, or have tantrums. Give a lot of love and let your child know that you will be nearby.
  • Preschooler: Your child should be told of the surgery several days before the procedure, and would benefit from a pre-op tour. Tell the truth in simple terms and answer all of your child’s questions. Make sure your child knows why he/she is having surgery and talk to them about any misconceptions he/she may have. Use pictures, books, stuffed animals or toys to help your child understand. Your child may have temper tantrums or be uncooperative; remember to have patience and provide comfort and security to your child.
  • School-aged child: Tour the facility and allow your child to ask as many questions as needed. Some children may not ask questions they think they are supposed to know about, leading a parent to think the child understands what surgery and hospitalization involve. Read books, use pictures and have your child explain to you what the process will be like. Give your child as many choices as possible to increase your child’s feeling of control, and allow them to bring comfort items from home. Encourage your child’s friends to write letters or send cards.
  • Teenager: Allow your teen to be a part of the decision making process. Encourage him/her to write down questions they have for their doctors and nurses, or keep a journal of the experience. Reading books and looking up information about their surgery on the internet will help your teen understand what he/she will go through. Teens are often reluctant to admit they do not understand. Parents may need to explain treatment in several different ways, without making the teen feel uncomfortable. Privacy is very important for teens. Allow them to bring comfort items from home. Ask friends from school to call, text or send cards during recovery.
  • Siblings: Siblings often worry with their brother or sister is having surgery. They may feel guilty, lonely or fearful of what is to come. It is important that siblings are involved in conversations about the surgery in words they can understand. Give siblings the choice of visiting, and give them lots of compliments and hugs. Read books about going to the hospital with the entire family. Keep their routines as normal as possible and allow them to ask questions and discuss the surgery.
  • Parents: Take care of yourself. Simplify your life during this time and do not be afraid to ask for help. Remaining positive and calm can help reduce your child’s anxiety. Be with your child as much as possible. Your presence alone gives comfort. Do as much research as possible about your child’s surgery or procedure so that you feel prepared.