Preparing Your Child for Surgery

Posted on July 12th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

Preparing Your Child for Surgery


Denise Koonce OTR

School is out and summer is here with all its exuberance and fun-filled days.   Days filled with playing outside, making mud pies, going to the movies, splashing in the pool, baseball games and much more.  However for some, summer is also the time for planned surgeries, therefore minimizing the number of days missed during the school year.   Surgeries may be numerous for some children and few and far between for others depending on their diagnosis and needs.  Regardless of the child’s age and number of previous surgeries, children generally exhibit an element of anxiety and possibly fear that comes from the anticipation of surgery.  The fear and anxiety demonstrated prior to surgery may be very obvious and the child may be able to verbalize their concerns.  If so, take the opportunity to help them by confronting and discussing their fears and concerns.   However, some children’s reactions may be more subtle and manifested through changes in behavior, speech, sleep patterns, eating habits, etc.  It is important to recognize these behaviors for what they are and try to help the child understand what is about to happen, therefore decreasing their fear and anxiety and the subsequent behaviors.   

There are numerous strategies that can be implemented to assist the child through this process.  One primary way is to educate your child on what surgery is and what will happen before and after surgery.   Some suggestions of how to go about this can include:

Attend a hospital tour if the hospital offers a tour prior to surgery

Read children books specifically written for trips to the hospital for surgery

Allow them to speak to their surgeon during the doctor’s appointment so they have some sense of control in what is about to happen to their body. 

As a parent you will know what methods work best for your child and what avenue to take in order to help them reach a calmer understanding. 

Some ways to help lower their anxiety on the day of surgery include:        

Pack a backpack and include one of your child’s favorite comforting items i.e. a stuffed animal, small blanket, small pillow and some activities they can do both in the waiting room and in pre-op (pre-operation holding area).  You can generally bring in an I Pad, Nintendo DS, crayons and drawing pad, MP3 player, and portable DVD.  If you do bring electronics, don’t forget to bring along a set of headphones.

Put together a small bag of newly purchased surprises that can be used in the pre-op room and present them to your child the morning of surgery.  The dollar store, Michaels and Target’s dollar bin are great places to find items such as small coloring activities, small sticker activities, and small craft activities that can all be done in pre-op without any or minimal mess.  If your child loves to play video games, purchase a brand new game card or a new DVD they have wanted to watch and add it to the bag.  All of these activities will help distract their attention away from their fear and anxiety, by focusing on the activity in front of them.   

Every hospital has slightly different procedures but most children’s hospitals will start the process by having the child change into a hospital gown or scrub suit and hospital socks.  The staff will then escort them into the pre-op holding area where the nurse, anesthesiologist, and surgeon will meet with you and your child.  The staff will review what will take place in the operating room and make sure the patient is still medically safe to proceed.  Some children’s hospitals have Child Life Specialists who will visit with the child and/or provide activities bedside, to help ease their fear and anxiety. 

As a parent you need to understand you have a voice in this situation and you should speak up if you have a question, concern, or know there is a special need your child has under the circumstances.  You should prepare yourself as best you can by asking all the questions you can think of during your final doctor’s appointment and prior to arriving at the hospital.   If you think of additional questions, be sure to write them down ahead of time so you won’t forget them the day of surgery and will be prepared to ask them at the appropriate time.     

Surgery can be anxiety producing for both parent and child but if you prepare your child and yourself prior to surgery by understanding what to expect before, during and after surgery you can minimize the fear and anxiety and help the whole process go smoothly.  In addition, if you come prepared the day of surgery with activities for the child to engage in during the waiting periods it will help to maintain an atmosphere of calm until they are moved into the operating room.  By planning ahead and with some effort on your part as the parent the surgery event can be made smoother for everyone involved.  If you have personal experience or additional suggestions on how to prepare for surgery please share them with us.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.