When Your Child Needs to Prep for Surgery

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Parents have been painfully concerned that they do not know how to prepare their child for elective surgery.  Let me see if I can take the pain out of those concerns and provide some information on this topic.

The first step in preparing your child for a surgical procedure is to make sure your child knows why they need surgery. To help you answer that question, learn as much as possible about the procedure. Get your questions answered first from the surgeon, anesthesiologist or the nurses and staff working with those doctors. That will enable you to better communicate with your child and alleviate their concerns and your concerns. Remember, if you seem anxious, your child will sense that and become even more anxious about the surgery.

Don’t hide the fact that surgery is going to occur; it will only foster distrust and fear later on. The key is to provide information that your child can understand for their age and level of development. Make sure your young child understands that the need for surgery is not their fault.

Try using a play medical kit to have them pretend to do an operation on their favorite stuffed animal. This may allow your child to share their thoughts and feelings about their upcoming operation. It can also give them a sense of control.

Accentuating the positive is critical. Make sure you avoid words like “open you up,” “cut into you,” or “you’ll be put to sleep.” Instead say things like “the surgeon will fix the problem with an operation.” Or, “During the operation, medicines will be used to make you sleepy and feel no pain.”   

A teen may want to read up on the operation. Your child’s health care professional can provide reading materials and sometimes even videos for your teen and your family to better understand the upcoming surgery.

Most children’s hospitals, including ours, have a website that explains what going for an operation is all about. These sites are designed for both children and parents and may offer a tour to show where things will occur. This can include where your child will be staying if they have to stay overnight.

Hopefully tips like these will take you to the cutting edge of being calm, cool, and collected when it comes to preparing your child for a upcoming elective surgery.

Learn more at: https://www.thegreathospitaladventure.org/

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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