How to prepare your child for surgery

Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

It can be overwhelming to learn that your child needs to have an operation/surgery/procedure.

Pediatric surgery is used to treat various illnesses and conditions in babies, children and teenagers. There are a range of pediatric surgeries from the routine to the rare, from appendectomies and hernia repair, to congenital abdominal and thoracic surgeries.

In pediatrics, minimally invasive surgery is used whenever possible. This allows a child to have smaller scars, less scar tissue, and sometimes it can even decrease recovery time. When it’s available, this option is a nice one for children so that they can return to their normal daily activities as soon as possible.

Regardless of what type of surgery your child needs, you likely have many questions about how to navigate the situation. Educating yourself about your child’s diagnosis and operation can go a long way to ease your child’s fears and make you comfortable as well. Start with your child’s healthcare team.

Typically, your child’s healthcare team will spend time with you and your child, explaining the diagnosis and operation in detail, and often with a question-and-answer session at the end of the appointment.

It is helpful for the care team to know your child’s past medical and surgical history, any allergies your child may have, list of medications, and family medical history related to the diagnosis and surgery, such as adverse reactions to anesthesia or medications, as well as a family history of bleeding disorders.

Parents may want to come prepared to the appointment with a list of questions, including what the day of surgery will look like. Many times, children will come to the hospital and go home the same day. Other times, children need to go to the hospital the night before or stay the night after surgery.

Parents are often allowed to be with their child for the entire time, up until they are moved to the surgery room for the actual procedure. Unlike adults, in pediatrics, parents are generally allowed to be there soon after the operation, so their child can see them when first waking up from surgery.

Your child’s age and maturity level will determine how you prepare them for surgery.

  • For newborns and infants, preparing for surgery is mostly about preparing you, the parent, for what to expect.
  • Toddlers may get anxious when separated from you, it is helpful for them to have a comfort item from home to take with them.
  • School-age children may be concerned about the procedure itself and hurting, so be honest with them about what to expect.
  • It can help to make teenagers a part of the Q&A session so they feel more empowered about the surgery.

Before surgery, you’ll want to talk about the upcoming procedure with your child. For older children and teens, you may decide to bring it up about 5-6 days ahead. For toddlers, it may be better to wait until about 1-2 days ahead.

It’s normal as a parent to be concerned about your child’s upcoming surgery, but keep in mind that children are often tuned in to their parent’s emotions. Your child will look to see your reaction when receiving information about the diagnosis and surgery. Try your best to have a calm, confident attitude about it when you’re in their presence.

You can help your child prepare for his/her upcoming surgery by following these three tips:

  1. Be honest. Often children have a more positive experience when they understand what’s happening. Providing age-appropriate information and answers to their questions allows a child to be part of their care, promotes a sense of control and builds trust between parent and child.

  2. Validate their feelings. Let your child know it’s OK to be scared. Reassure them that the doctors and nurses will work hard to make them feel safe and comfortable, and that you’ll be there as well.

  3. Watch your words. Use words your child can understand. (“taking a nap” to describe being put under anesthesia and “feel sore” to explain pain). Your toddler will need very simple explanations (“the doctor will make your belly feel better”) but avoid getting into details. School-age children and teens will need more specific information about when they’ll be able to resume activities/sports with friends again.

The night before the procedure, make sure your child gets adequate rest so that they are less likely to be irritable or out of sorts the next day.

On the day of surgery, your child may be comforted by having familiar objects from home, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal with them. It may also help to bring items to help distract your child while waiting, such as coloring books, stickers or their favorite TV show or movie downloaded on a device.

The pediatric surgery team at Edward-Elmhurst Health is here to help your child feel better and improve his/her quality of life. For more information or to make an appointment with a board-certified pediatric surgeon, call 630-527-2910.

Also, our child life specialists are available to provide support for the patient and family. Their goal is to help the patient and parents cope successfully before and after the surgical procedure. Using a child/teen friendly approach they provide medical education, distraction and appropriate play for patients. Parents can ask their child’s doctor for a referral.

Explore children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Our hospitals have earned national recognition in patient safety and quality. We’ve put numerous measures in place to keep everyone safe.


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