Preparing your child for surgery and hospitalization

Parenting a child who needs surgery can be confusing and downright scary. Whether it is a planned surgery or an emergency, both you and your child are likely feeling a bit anxious. Here are a few tips to make the day easier for everyone.

  • Educate yourself. Be sure you understand what your child’s problem is and what is going to happen during the surgery. Before the big day, talk to the doctors and nurses to get as much information as you can about the procedure itself, the length of time in the operating room, and what the recovery will be like. Find out at what point you will leave your child into the capable hands of the medical team—can you accompany him into the operating room, or will he leave you in the pre-op area? The more you understand, the better you will be able to answer your child’s questions.
  • Take a tour. If your child is scheduled for elective surgery, call the hospital to see if they offer tours of the surgery department for you and your child. Many hospitals offer a tour of the facilities so you and your child can familiarize yourselves with the setting before the big day.
  • Bring a familiar object. Don’t forget your child’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or pacifier on the day of the surgery. A familiar object can help your child feel secure on a day when he faces many unknowns.


Many parents find they are at a loss for words when it comes to explaining the surgery. They don’t know how much to say or what words to use. When talking to your child before the big day, here are a few tips to make things a little easier:

  • Remain calm. Remember, your child looks to you to set the tone for the day. If you appear scared, your child will surely pick up on your feelings and body language. Instead, appear confident on the outside when talking to your child, even if you are frightened.
  • Focus on the benefits of the surgery. Whether it be a ruptured appendix or a broken arm, your child will feel better after the broken body part is fixed. By telling your child that their body will be all better soon, you keep them focused on the positive.
  • Be honest. You may not have all the answers, and that is okay. Give simple but truthful answers to your child’s questions, and let the doctors and nurses tackle the questions you don’t know the answers to.
  • Ask for backup. Most children’s hospitals have a Child Life team, a trained group of workers skilled at relating to children with medical needs. They will often bring dolls and medical equipment to explain the surgery in simple terms and show the child exactly what is going to happen to them. They will also use age-appropriate words when describing the surgery. Children may not understand words such as “anesthesia” or “sedation,” but they Child Life staff can explain it in a way they understand.



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