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Ways to Help Prepare Your Child for Surgery

Pediatrician High five PatientGetting ready for surgery can be daunting for adults even when they know it’s intended to help them feel better in the long run. When it’s your child undergoing a procedure, he or she may feel even more anxious or afraid of the unknown. Fortunately for parents, there are several ways to help calm children’s fears.

Depending on the age and maturity level of the child, here are guidelines to get them ready for surgery:

Toddlers (ages 1-3 years old)

  • Tell your child about the surgery 1-3 days in advance and that they will be going to the hospital so the doctor can help them feel better.
  • Let them pick out a favorite stuffed animal, toy or blanket to take to the hospital.

Pre-school kids (ages 4-5)

  • Tell your child 3-5 days in advance about the surgery. They are likely to be curious and want to know what to expect.
  • If they are worried that their operation is punishment for being bad, provide reassurance that that is not the case.
  • Some kids are afraid that their body parts will be hurt. Explain in simple terms what is being fixed.
  • Being separated from parents can also be scary. Let them know you’ll be at the hospital with them and will take them home after the surgery.
  • Reading books about the hospital and letting them play with a toy medical kit are great ways to help preschoolers, too.

Young school-age (6-12)

  • Tell them at least a week ahead about their procedure.
  • Kids often worry that surgery will affect the way they look or how others see them.
  • They often want more details about what’s taking place before, during and after surgery. Let them know they will get special sleep medicine and won’t feel or hear anything during the operation.

Adolescents (13 and up)

  • Teens may worry that their body will be damaged or that they won’t look or feel well afterward.
  • They may also be concerned about how a procedure may affect their friendships and/or independence, both of which they value.
  • Be sure to include teens in discussions and decisions about their surgery to help them feel more in control. Knowing what to expect and being prepared ahead of time can help lift stress -for the whole family.
To make the transition home after surgery smoother, your doctor can provide after-surgery care instructions ahead of time. Going over them with your child a few days before the operation will prepare them for recovery and next steps, so they can focus on their future.

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