Preparing a child for surgery emotionally is one of the most important things parents can do when their child is facing a surgical procedure. Surgery, without proper explanations and preparation, can traumatize children.
Preparing a child for surgery is not difficult, but it is essential to understand that many children will adopt their parent’s attitude about healthcare and surgery. If the parent is frightened or hysterical, the child is much more likely to be frightened or hysterical.
It is also important that your body language matches your words. If a parent is saying, “It’s going to be OK," but their body language says, “I’m terrified”, the child will usually adopt the attitude of fear. This may be easier said than done, as most parents do feel fear when their child needs surgery, but being aware of the issue can be helpful.
The worst thing a parent can do before surgery is to not prepare the child at all, so surgery is a surprise and they are completely unaware of what is happening to them. Children who are shocked by the fact they are having surgery often act out, crying, screaming, and attempting to bite, kick or hit staff and family members. These children can be left with a fear of hospitals, surgery, doctors, nurses and health care in general.
Children traumatized by surgery have been shown to regress in the weeks and months after surgery. Potty-trained children may begin wetting the bed, or they may want a bottle after having moved on to regular foods. In these cases, patience is essential, providing affection and support while the child works through the experience.