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How can I prepare for my child’s surgery?

Talking About Surgery With Your Child

Preparing your child for surgery is important to help their surgical experience and recovery go more smoothly.

Prepare Together

Have age-appropriate conversations with your child about their planned surgery and what to expect.

  • Let your child guide the conversation.
  • Answer their questions as best as you can, using simple language they can understand.
  • Check what resources your surgeon or hospital may have to help you prepare your child.
  • Read stories of similar experiences:
    • Thump! Ouch! is a book about a child who gets hurt and needs to go to the hospital.
  • Watch videos as examples:


Consider your child’s anxiety level when talking to them about surgery.

Choose the right time. If your child is anxious, it may be better to wait until a few days before surgery to discuss it with them, as their anxiety may grow as they wait. It is still very important to talk with them about surgery before the event, so they can be prepared.

Encourage feelings of security. Remind your child of the things that will stay the same despite the changes that happen with surgery and recovery. Some of these stable things include family, home, their room, pets, and their school. Help your child keep an attitude that is adaptive, flexible, and hopeful.

Don’t be afraid to talk about pain.

  • Help your child understand that you and the medical team will work to manage their pain as best and safely as possible.
  • Be honest and positive. This will help your child have realistic expectations about their pain following surgery. Review the reasons for your child’s surgery, and remind them that the surgical pain will be temporary

Marcus loves playing with his friends Olivia and Nora, but one day while they are swinging at the playground he falls and gets hurt. He has to go to the hospital! At the hospital, Marcus meets a dog named Denver who teaches him about pain, how to help the pain feel better, and how to take medicine safely so that Marcus can get back to playing with his friends again.

The book can be read with augmented reality using your smartphone or tablet. The book is available in English or Spanish. Contact


Preparing for Your Child’s Surgery

Think about how your child reacts to pain and what has helped them deal with pain most effectively in the past. For a young child it can be difficult to understand why they are experiencing pain; physical comfort, such as hugs and snuggles, can be very helpful.

Preparing for Your Child’s Surgery

Be sure to consider your own concerns about your child’s upcoming surgery and possible pain. Work to manage these, so you can be a calm, healing presence for your child. This will help them recover and manage their pain. Remember, the goal of pain management is to regulate enough of the pain, so that your child can heal and recover. They should be able to drink, eat, and sleep as best as possible given their post-surgical condition.


Purchase the over-the-counter medications (Tylenol®, Motrin®, Advil®) that your care team has recommended to use at home.




Buy food and drink that your care team recommends.




Gather things such as toys, music, books, and technology to be used for distraction after surgery.



Your child may be at home and away from school or daycare for a period of time following surgery, and may require your full-time care while they recover. If your child will miss school, communicate with their teacher before surgery to come up with a plan for their missed homework. If your child is anxious, this will also help reassure them that they won’t fall behind in their work.

Downloadable Resource:

Planning For Surgery and Pain Management Worksheet

Making a plan before surgery about how you might address pain can help with recovery and pain control. You should consider both medications as well as non-medication options that have worked well in the past.

What You Should Know About Your Child’s Surgery

After surgery, you might be invited to join your child in the recovery area. This will depend on your hospital’s policy. Know that some children are very upset when they first awaken. This can be a consequence of the anesthesia itself rather than pain. Your child’s recovery team is best equipped to manage this and can answer any questions you may have.

Create Comfort at Home

Your goal is to support your child and help them be as comfortable as possible.

How will you know if your child is in pain? Ask them and watch them. You know your child best and can pick up on any signs that they’re in distress.

Pain might affect their sleep, appetite, and mood. They might wake up more often at night, not want to eat or drink, cling to you, or withdraw from you. For young children, it can be difficult to understand why they are having pain. Encourage and support them. Each child is unique, and their recovery may be different from another child’s. Use what you know about your child to help them recover.

Get Support if You Can

Understand that if your child isn’t sleeping well, you probably will not be sleeping well either and may need support. Do not be afraid to ask for or accept help from others. Make a list of things that you could use help with, including:


Take good care of yourself, so that you are able to care for your child. Remember: pain is a typical response to surgery, and if your child has pain, this is the body’s natural way of recovering. It is not a sign that you are failing them as a parent. If there are other members of your household who rely on you for care, try to create a plan that allows you time to focus on your child’s needs after surgery

Next Page: Over-the-Counter Medications