If your child needs surgery, you may have spent days or weeks preparing your child (and yourself!) for the big day. Or perhaps you may not have that luxury—some children will need emergency surgery, leaving no time to think of anything else other than the surgery itself. As a result, many parents don’t consider the recovery period, forgetting to plan for the hours and days just after surgery. Knowing what to expect after surgery will make the recovery time much smoother and lessen everyone’s anxiety.

The type of surgery your child has will determine if your child goes home right away or needs to stay in the hospital. But no matter where your child is recovering, here are a few tips to care for your child after surgery:

  • Let your child rest. It is normal for your child to be sleepy in the hours after surgery. The anesthesia may take some time to wear off, causing your child to not feel like him or herself for several hours. Just let your child rest as much as possible so the body can recover.
  • Know your child’s pain control options. If your child is recovering in the hospital, ask the nurse what pain medications the doctor has ordered for your child and how often he or she can have it. If your child is recovering at home, make sure you understand the medications your child has been prescribed. Know when to use the strongest prescription meds versus over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Limit activity. While it may seem impossible to limit your young child’s activity, in many cases this will be advised. Whether your child is recovering from a broken bone or has stitches in place, strenuous activity could injure your child further. Provide your child with plenty of quiet activities in the days after surgery, such as books, puzzles, and board games.
  • Know how to take care of the wound. You will likely be told how to take care of your child after surgery, including how to care for the wound. You may need to change the dressing or keep a cast dry. However, many parents don’t think about the psychological effect of the wound on their child. Talking about the way their body will look after surgery is an important way to prepare your child emotionally for any differences in their appearance.
  • Be prepared for behavior changes. Some kids bounce back quickly from surgery while others may take a little longer. Don’t be surprised if your child is less agreeable in the days after surgery. Remember, children often don’t know how to deal with the stress, and it may take a while for them to get back to normal. Just be patient, offer lots of cuddles and understanding, and he or she will likely be back to their usual active self in no time!


  • If possible, make a plan for your child’s post-surgery.
  • Ask your doctors about pain control options.
  • Give you child plenty of rest after surgery.
  • Ask questions about wound care.

Last reviewed by Sara Connolly, MD. Review Date: August 2020


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