How to prepare your child for surgery

Going to the hospital or clinic for surgery can be scary at any age. There are unfamiliar people, sights, sounds and unknown outcomes. There are school events or sports missed, families separated, and lets be honest, hangry individuals. 

 As child life specialists, our role is to help ease anxiety related to the surgical procedure and environment through preparation and education, play, psycho-social support, and helping the child/family create a coping plan that works best for them.

We have families' best interest at heart.  We aim to help caregivers feel more comfortable themselves, so that children are more at ease and observe mutual trust and respect between their caregivers and clinicians. This helps children identify and utilize coping tools on the day of surgery and those following.

How to prepare you child for surgery! Tips from a certified child life specialist.

tips to help prepare a child for surgery:

1. Be honest. Telling anxious children, of any degree, that they are going to the hospital for a "check-up" can be traumatizing. It causes distrust and further negative cogitations associated with going to the doctor or hospital to help their body. This greater divide makes the ability to use coping strategies much more difficult, which can reduce compliancy and cooperation during their visit and with future ones.  

2. Use sensory information to prepare what she will see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. Check your hospital's website for any resources, such as handouts, images or videos to help prepare you and your child.

3. Ask questions & share any developmental or coping concerns with pre-op/surgery unit staff. It's okay to ask for clarification. It's common to have more questions after the new information has had time to digest. If a child's understanding and coping are not discussed with the medical team prior to surgery, sometimes families are not made aware of all of the available resources or strategies to help your child and family. If you anticipate your child will experience high anxiety with a particular part of their experience, be sure to communicate this with the pre-op nurse at the time of the pre-op call or right away on the day of surgery, at the very least. A quick care plan can be put in place. As one example, the team can do their best to avoid trigger words for the child by making a note in the child's electronic chart or by making a quick sign on the door. 

4. Attend a pre-surgery tour. Pre-surgery tours are led by child life specialists, nurses or sometimes other hospital staff. Bring the family (or keep the busier tots with a grandparent or trusted neighbor) on this engaging experience learning about what to expect when they come to the hospital for a surgery. Having the opportunity to learn the sequence and sensory information ahead of time enables them to understand and be familiar with the process. Often misconceptions are cleared up and ideas are shared by experienced team members to help make their experience go as best as possible. You know your child best - be sure to communicate with the heath care professional about how your child copes with preparation and what topics to exercise utmost caution on. 

5. Give them control & involve them in the pre-surgery to do's. Invite them to pack a back pack of their favorite comfort and distraction items to keep them relaxed and at ease. If they have a specific post-surgery diet of soft foods, allow them to help create and shop for the grocery list. Hospitalization can be challenging for kids because a lot of it can feel like they don't have control. They can't skip doctor's orders, but they can pick ways to help them take medicine or who they want to visit them afterwards. Come up with a coping plan of how to get through what they think will be the hardest part.

6. Model use of positive coping strategies. They don't have to be the same methods they would choose to cope, just healthy ones.

*HANGRY = anger caused by hunger

*NPO- nothing by mouth