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. Have age-appropriate conversations with them 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 appropriate for their age. Check what resources your surgeon or hospital may have to help you prepare your child.

Consider your child’s anxiety level when talking to them about surgery. If your child is anxious, it may be better to wait until several days before surgery to discuss it with them. Otherwise, their anxiety may grow as they wait. However, it is still very important to talk with them about surgery before the event so they can be prepared. Remind them about the things in their life 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 them keep an attitude that is adaptive, flexible and hopeful.

  • Prepare for the hospital experience. Knowledge provides a sense of control for children and helps them process the experience. 
    • Ask your hospital if they have Child Life services who can offer preoperative experiences including tours and websites explaining the surgery process. 
    • Make a plan for the day of surgery and, if possible, plan for a pleasant experience that they can look forward to after surgery.
    •  Encourage them to take a special item such as a stuffed animal to the hospital for comfort.
  • Answer your child’s questions about pain. 
    • Help them understand that you and the medical team will work to control their pain as best and safely as possible.
    • Be realistic with your answers while keeping a positive attitude.  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.

Before surgery, think about how your child reacts to pain and what has helped them deal with pain in the past. For a younger child, it can be difficult to understand why they are having pain, making physical comfort very helpful.

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 manage 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.  

Before your child’s surgery:

Purchase the over-the-counter medications your surgeon has recommended to use at home.

Buy food and drink that your surgeon 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.

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.  Remind yourself that pain is a typical response to surgery and if your child has pain, this is the body’s natural way of recovering and not a sign that you are failing them as a parent. Consider downloading a mindfulness app before surgery to help you after surgery.

If there are other members of your household who rely on you for care, try to have a plan for them so that you can focus on your child’s needs after surgery.