The thought of surgery can be daunting for adults, so it's normal for
kids to feel scared or unsure about it, too. "There are several things
parents can do to help put their child at ease before surgery--and these
measures can also help allay any fears parents may have about the procedure," says
Wilfredo Alejo, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group. "If parents feel comfortable and confident with the surgical procedure
their child will undergo, the parents will be in a better position to
prepare their children for the hospital visit and make it as smooth as
possible for them."
To prepare your child for surgery, Dr. Alejo recommends the following:
Be an informed parent. Get all the necessary details on the procedure from the doctor. "That
includes how long the surgery will last, what type of anesthesia will
be used, possible risks, how long the child may have to stay in the hospital
and what recovery may look like, including possible pain, medication and
post-surgical care. It helps when you know what to expect," Dr. Alejo
says. "Parents should also communicate clearly with the doctor and
anesthesiologist about allergies, illnesses and other health issues."
Parents will want to have the conversations without the child present.
"Some of the details may sounds scary to a child, and you'll
want the ability to speak freely with the physicians," Dr. Alejo says.
Gently describe what your child can expect. "Use age-appropriate language, and outline the basics of the surgery,"
Dr. Alejo says. "Especially with younger children, take care to minimize
the use of words that can make the child fearful. Instead of saying 'The
doctor will put you under and cut into your abdomen to take out the appendix,'
try 'The doctor will help you take a nap while she fixes your appendix'."
Make sure the child is also aware of any pre-surgical guidelines, such
as limits on eating and drinking or taking necessary medications. "Always
be honest--don't say there won't be any pain after surgery to
make your child feel better. If you feel you need help answering your
child's questions, ask the pediatrician to talk with him."
Make the hospital a friendly place. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start talking
about the hospital stay about five to six days ahead of surgery for older
children and about two to three days ahead for preschoolers and toddlers.
"Check with the hospital where the procedure will be done--some offer
family tours so children can see the facility before the surgery and get
familiar with it, while others may offer video tours on their websites
or brochures geared toward children," Dr. Alejo says. "If you
sense your child is particularly worried about the hospital stay, ask
your pediatrician for recommendations of children's books on the topics,
which you and your child can read together. Younger children may want
to play pretend with toy medical equipment. For the hospital stay, let
your child pick out a favorite stuffed animal, toy or book to keep in
his room, and reassure him that you will be at the hospital with him.
Check the visitation policy for the hospital, and if your child is up
for guests, ask grandparents or other family members to stop by."
Offer your child comfort and security--and a post-surgery treat. "One of the best things you can do is talk with your child about
the surgery and let him express any emotions he may have," Dr. Alejo
says. "Reassure your child that it's OK to feel scared, but also
make sure he knows that the doctors and nurses are there to take care
of him and make him feel better, and that everyone will be looking out
for him. A lot of hugs and kisses from mom and dad are always helpful;
you can also rally family members and the child's friends to make
a 'Get Well Soon' card or banner that the child can take to the
hospital as a reminder that he has many people supporting him during the
process. And it never hurts to offer something to look forward to after
surgery and recovery are done, such as a special outing or new toy."
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.