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Safety and Wellness

How Do I Prepare My Child for Their Surgery?

Gillette patient Hope is blowing bubbles with her provider

The reality of surgery and hospitalization would be overwhelming for anyone, much less a child.

As the parent or caregiver of a child who needs surgery, you'll likely have your own emotions too, and that's OK. If you're anxious, worried or scared, it's absolutely normal and you are not alone.

You’re the person your child looks to for reassurance and Gillette’s child life specialists can help you prepare your child for surgery and recovery. 

How Do I Prepare My Child for Surgery?  

Did you know that children cope better with surgery and recover faster when their parents and other family members are prepared and informed with essential information? 

Without question, acquiring a thorough knowledge of your child’s upcoming surgery is the best way to prepare and relieve a significant amount of fear and anxiety. 

Once you feel that you personally understand the procedure, prepare to speak with your child in a calm and relaxed way. This can help them absorb information that’s important for them to know and avoid unnecessary confusion.  

Some age-appropriate points you can incorporate into the conversation can follow these approaches: 

Preparing your toddler and young child (ages 3 to 6)  

Give them time to prepare their minds by discussing the procedure 48-72 hours before the actual surgery date. Choosing your words carefully so you don’t accidentally confuse them is important, as is reassuring your child that the surgery isn’t in any way their fault.  

From there, encourage them to express what they’re feeling and tell them that it’s OK to cry and be scared. After they become comfortable with the topic and the emotions they’re feeling, work with them to use toy medical kits and children's books to help normalize the process and ease their fears. 

Preparing your school-aged child (ages 7 to 12)  

At this age, your child will benefit from having more time to process their emotions and the information about the surgery, so starting the conversation a few weeks before the procedure is best.  

Explain to them the details of the surgery, including the fact that a specialist will be performing the procedure and that they’ll be completely safe and cared for.  

Try to continue your usual routine while also allowing them to vent potential frustrations and fears. Also, encourage their friends to communicate with them by sending texts or calls to discuss the surgery, helping them to feel fully supported. 

Preparing your teen (ages 13 to 18) 

At this age, it’s important to make your child a partner in the process, speaking to them directly about the surgery and including them in as many details as possible. What’s important is to not keep secrets from them.  

Your teen will find comfort in being able to ask questions and find support with their friends and family.  Answer them as directly and honestly as you can. Encourage them to talk about what is going on with their body.  

Encourage them to communicate with their friends and maybe provide them with a stress journal to keep their private thoughts and feelings during the entire process. From there, be patient and let them deal with the situation at their own pace. 

One of the best things you can do throughout your conversation with your child is to reassure them that they’ll never be alone through this process, because you’ll be there for them the entire time. 

Preparing Kids for Surgery with These Top Comforting Tips 

While younger children may benefit from physical comfort and playing with their favorite toys to experience comfort, older children may benefit from artistic forms of expression and increased verbal reassurance.  

It’s helpful to remember that every child is different and will react to comforting attempts in their own way. By communicating consistently and honestly with your child, and by providing the comforting touch that best suits their specific needs, you can help them work through their emotions and help their mind and body remain in a more calm state — as opposed to a stressed, fight or flight mode. 

To further support you in feeling as prepared as possible, we’ve outlined specific ways you can comfort your child, according to their age. Take a look: Ways to Prepare and Comfort Your Child

Pediatric Surgery: It’s OK If You’re Nervous, Too  

When you’re constantly focused on your child’s well-being, it’s easy to get wrapped up in caring for their needs while neglecting your own. But it’s important to care for yourself, too.  

Not properly managing feelings of stress and anxiety can negatively impact how you’re interacting with your child as the surgery draws closer.  

While it can certainly be easier said than done, try making the effort to properly take care of your health and well-being by getting enough sleep and eating nutritious foods. You can also use tools like meditation, exercise, yoga, listening to music or other stress- and anxiety-reducing techniques that work well for you. 

This will help manage your nerves while making sure you’re physically and mentally prepared to support your child throughout the entire process. 

How Gillette’s Child Life Specialists Will Help Prepare Your Child for Surgery  

The staff at Gillette Children’s is here to help you prepare your child for their surgery while providing resources to assist you along the way.  

Our child life specialists are health care professionals trained to help your family cope with the surgery process. Their diverse training spans fields including child life, child development, education and psychology. 

Your team at Gillette Children's is committed to helping patients understand. We let them know they’ll be encouraged and supported by our expert and compassionate team and support staff along the way. 

To get better acquainted with Gillette and our surgery prep process, watch this short video. It may even help your child, depending on their age, to see Ling’s — the young girl in the video — prep and surgery process. 

At Gillette Children’s, We’ll Be with You and Your Child Every Step of the Way  

Our exceptional care is complemented by services that address the emotional, personal and financial needs of our patients. Our patient support services are committed to helping your family along the way through constant communication and individualized care. 

Learn more about how we prepare children for procedures and surgeries.

What additional questions do you have? We’re here for you and want to ensure you get the support and insight you’re looking for.  

Contact us today.