5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Surgery
Surgery can be a very scary ordeal for children. It’s not uncommon for a child to feel quite anxious or scared about surgery. Many children’s pre-surgery anxiety is often due to the fact that it’s something mysterious and unknown to them. However, in some cases the anxiety or fear may also be related to a previous hospital experience, such as when a loved one died after being injured or sick. As a parent, it’s your role to prepare your child for surgery. The more prepared she is, the less fear she’ll have as her surgery date approaches. Following are some tips to help ensure the ordeal goes as smoothly as possible.
Prepare Yourself First
Children are much more likely to feel anxious and afraid if they observe you being anxious or scared. However, if parents are calm and relaxed, that will help them tremendously. This is why it’s crucial that you take some time to prepare yourself first. If you educate yourself – i.e., learn as much as possible about the surgery, the doctor who will be performing it, and also the hospital’s policies and regulations, you’ll be well-equipped to prepare your child.
Educate Your Child
How you talk to your child and what you tell him will depend largely on your child’s age and emotional maturity. For example, your teen can handle far more information and details than your six-year-old. So be sure to keep your conversations age-appropriate. Young children will benefit from simple, concrete explanations.
Practice in advance how you’ll explain the surgery to your child. The more she knows about what’s going to happen, why it needs to happen (i.e. to make it so she can run and play again), and how it’s going to happen, the less anxious she’ll feel about it. Encourage her to ask questions, and after you explain things, ask her to explain it back to you in her own words.
A few days before his surgery, take your child to visit and tour the hospital. Some hospitals offer an orientation to children, prior to coming in for surgery. Meeting and talking to the hospital staff, as well as seeing where he will be staying during his time there, will help reduce his anxiety.
Take advantage of kids’ books, child-oriented pamphlets or videos, dolls, and any other child-friendly tools to help her understand why she’s having surgery, what will take place, and how it will help her.
Choose Your Words
Surgery can sound very scary to a child if you don’t choose your words carefully. For example, consider the difference between telling your child that the doctor is going to “cut your tummy open with a knife,” and “look inside your tummy so he can make you feel better.”
With regards to anesthesia, be especially careful to not tell your child that she’ll be “put to sleep.” She may recall a sick pet being put to sleep (and buried, never to come home again) and worry that the same thing is about to happen to her. Instead, you might tell her that she’ll be given a special medicine to help her take a nice, long nap during the surgery. When she wakes up, you’ll be there by her bedside.
Make sure you remain calm and relaxed as you talk to her. If she sees that you’re scared or apprehensive, that will make her feel more anxious.
As a parent, it’s natural to want to protect your child as much as possible. However, it’s important that you don’t lie to your child or make promises that neither you nor the doctor can keep. Children can often sense when their parents are not being straight with them, especially as they get older. Answer your child’s questions as honestly as possible. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up. It’s okay to say that you don’t know or you’re not sure. If his question is related directly to the surgery, reassure him that you will ask the doctor or hospital staff to see if you can find out the answer.
Some children perceive surgery as a punishment. They may believe that they are sick or in pain because they did something bad. Be sure to address these issues if they come up, reassuring your child that surgery is a way for the doctors to fix her body and help her feel better. If your child’s surgery does happen to be the direct result of something she did (e.g. she was jumping on the trampoline without supervision and got hurt), gently remind her that rules are there to protect her. Reassure her that surgery is simply a way to fix her injury – not a means to punish her for disobeying the rules.
Your child will look to you for comfort, answers to questions, and reassurance regarding her surgery. Make sure that you listen and respond to her concerns, while providing as much support as possible. By doing so, your child will feel less stressed, and that will enhance her chances of a smooth surgery and speedy recovery.