Pediatrics at HSS

Preparing for Your Child's Surgery

Preparing for Your Child's Surgery

This can be a time of concern for you and your family. Preparing as much as possible before your child’s admission should reduce the amount of stress you and your family feel.

Asking questions of the medical staff should help you to answer your child’s questions. Remember that questions may not only come from the child who is scheduled for admission, but also from siblings who may be experiencing their own worries. Keep answers simple, age appropriate, and most importantly, be truthful with your answers.

Telling a child that something won’t hurt when it will might make the child distrustful of answers to his/her questions about the hospitalization experience. Be reassuring with your explanations. For example, if your child asks if the needle will hurt, explain that it will only hurt for a few moments, but that you will be there to hold his/her hand. This gives your child a realistic expectation of what to expect. The fear of the unknown is the greatest factor in your child’s concern about the upcoming admission.

Some of the questions your child may have are:

  • Why do I have to have the operation?
  • Why is this happening to me?
  • Can I go home right away?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Who is going to take care of me?
  • What if I wake up during the operation?
  • Will I be different after the operation?
  • Will the medication make me look strange?

Please remember that children may not always be able to let you know verbally what is upsetting them; they may act out, be more demanding, or less social than they normally are. This may be particularly true of older children (ages 10 and over) who may be worried, but who are uncomfortable talking about their feelings.

The more you understand and can explain to your child, the more relaxed your child will be about the upcoming hospitalization. Children, particularly younger children, are very sensitive to the feelings of their parents. If you are worried or anxious, the child will pick up on that, and the child’s own concerns will increase. However, denying feelings is not good either. Rather, be honest with yourself, your family, and your child. It’s understandable that you would be worried about your child needing to have surgery. However, this should be balanced with your understanding of why the surgery is in your child’s best interests, as well as your confidence in the medical staff to provide the level of care your child needs. Your comfort and understanding will readily be transmitted to your child. 

You have many resources to help you with preparing for this hospitalization: your child’s physicians, hospital staff, other parents, family members, and clergy.

Some of the questions you may want to find answers to in an effort to prepare your child might be:

  • What tests will be done?
  • What will happen during the admission?
  • What clothing is OK for the hospitalization?
  • Who can visit? When can they visit?
  • Can someone stay overnight?
  • What is the hospital room like?
  • Will there be a lot of pain?
  • How should I explain the surgery to my child?
  • How long will the hospitalization be?
  • When can he/she return to school?
  • What restrictions will there be afterwards?
  • Are there other parents you can speak with who had a child with a similar surgery/hospitalization?

You may also need to make plans for the rest of your family. Can neighbors or family members get them to and from school and to their after-school activities? Prepare and freeze meals for not only the time of the hospitalization, but also for the first few days home, which can be an equally hectic time for your family. Pay your household bills in advance - little details like these may escape your memory during the hospitalization, but they still need to be done. If you work outside of your home, think about how much time you can take off from work. If you only have a limited amount of time, use it wisely. It may be a better use of your time to take time off when your child is home. 

While your child is hospitalized, you will have the staff providing care to your child and you can visit after work.  When your child is home, family care is crucial. If this is not possible, consider extended family members and/or neighbors who may be able to help once your child is home. (Do not “bank on” insurance-provided home care; there are many stipulations based on benefits and medical situations. Additionally, nearly all home care agencies will not provide care to a child unless a parent or adult is present.) 

A planned admission allows you time to plan!