How to Explain Surgery to Your Child

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You may have a lot of anxiety about how to prepare your child for surgery, but there are a few important steps you can follow to ensure that the big day goes smoothly for everyone.

Preparing Your Child for Surgery

  1. Be honest with your child. Do not lie about the possibility of needle sticks or some pain after the surgery. It's best to say something like, "It will probably be a little bit sore after the surgery is finished but we will give you pain medicine to help you feel better."
  1. If your child has a "comfort item" such as a favorite doll or a special blanket make sure you bring it with you to the hospital.
  2. If your child is an infant and drinks out of a bottle or "sippy cup" or uses a pacifier, don't forget to bring it with you to the hospital. Bring extra diapers and underwear.
  3. For children approximately ages 3-5 years old it is sometimes helpful to use pretend play to demonstrate some of the things that will happen before surgery. Sometimes a nurse will do this for you. For example, you can demonstrate putting an IV in on your child's favorite doll before your child gets the IV herself. Or, the nurse can model taking the doll's blood pressure before taking your child's.
  4. Your child will need to rest after surgery. Before the big day find things that your child can do while recuperating such as favorite movies, craft projects, or drawing and coloring tools.
  5. Use age appropriate media to explain what will happen to your child. Movies and books like "Elmo Visits the Doctor" are usually helpful.


    1. Talk to your doctor about giving your child a sedative medication before having their IV placed or going into the operating room. Versed (midazolam) is a common choice. While some hospitals don't allow this many do and it helps the child to remain calm and unafraid.
    2. If you are a single parent arrange for a friend or grandparent to be with you the day your child has surgery. You will need an extra hand, especially to go fill prescriptions after the surgery, (your child cannot be left alone).
    1. If you have other children arrange for a babysitter.
    2. It is not your unusual for a child to have some signs of anxiety or unease for a few weeks after surgery. Sometimes children will regress developmentally. For example, some children who are potty trained may begin to wet the bed. Understand that this is normal. What your child needs is one on one love, attention and nurturing. These effects usually go away fairly quickly when handled in an appropriate manner.
    3. Don't be surprised if your child bounces back much sooner than you expected. Unlike adults, kids have a tendency not to lay around and be sick for long. In fact, you may have difficulty enforcing necessary activity restrictions.
    4. Learn as much as possible about the particular surgery your child is having beforehand. Our website contains articles about many (not all) common surgeries including: What to Expect When Having Your Tonsils Removed, Information for Parents about Ear Tubes, and What is an Adenoidectomy?

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