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Preparing Your Child For Surgery

Help Explaining Surgery to a Child


Updated April 09, 2011

pediatric surgery baby image

Healthy & Happy

Image: (c) Erin Lee

How to Prepare Your Child For Surgery

Preparing a child for surgery is one of the most important things a parent can do when their child needs a surgical procedure. Yes, it is up to you to make sure he is properly prepared for the procedure. Your surgeon may participate, but you will be responsible for explaining the information in a way that will prevent your little one from being terrified by surgery.

Easier said then done? Not necessarily. Children require far more emotional preparation for a surgery than most adults, and are much more easily confused by the information provided. But a few simple tips can make the process go more smoothly. In fact, a child who has been given age-appropriate information and a realistic expectation of what will happen can be a wonderful surgery patient.

Talk to Your Child's Surgeon

If your child is not yet aware the surgery will be taking place, take the time to speak with the surgeon to obtain some basic information before you explain what is happening to your child. This way, you have answers for their questions when you do discuss the surgery. Before your discussion with your surgeon, learn more about:

When you are with the surgeon, there are important things you need to Tell Your Surgeon About Your Child's Health. Remember that the medical history of the mother may be as important as the health of the child. Questions pertaining to drug use may seem strange for an infant patient. But the questions truly pertain to the mother’s habits, unlike a teenager, who very well may have used drugs in the past.

When preparing for surgery, general information is of great help, in addition to information that is specific to the age of the child. Understanding the Risks of Surgery can help you make a more well-informed decision. Take the time to learn about anesthesia, including what type of anesthesia will be used, Who Will Provide the Anesthesia and other information.

What to Say (and Not Say!) To Your Child About Surgery

Kids can view surgery very differently than adults. With an adult patient, the surgeon would not need to explain that the patient did not do anything wrong and their upcoming appendectomy is not a punishment for being bad. With children, there are things that need to be clearly stated that may be surprising for an adult.

Different Age Groups, Different Information

The preparation and discussions you will need to have with your child vary with their age. Teenagers, for example, can understand easily when a surgery has been scheduled weeks in advance. But a preschooler may ask, “Is my surgery tomorrow?” for weeks if he is told too soon. Conversely, a teen may not appreciate having a procedure described as “the doctor is going to look in your belly and make you feel better,” and should be cautioned against getting surgery information from unreliable online sources.

The Final Step-Before and During Surgery

Once you’ve made the leap and prepared your child for surgery it is time to step back and think about yourself for a moment. Don't forget to Prepare Yourself For Your Child’s Surgery. To be able to provide the best possible support for your child, take care of your own emotional, and sometimes physical (yes, you do need to sleep even if your child is having surgery), needs during what can be a stressful time. As a parent, you may benefit from learning how to Cope With Surgical Anxiety as much as your child.


Ages and Stages. Invest in Kids Canada. 2007.

Surgery Guide. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/gd/templates/pages/pfv/PFV.aspx?page=242

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