The prospect of surgery and hospitalization can be frightening and overwhelming for children and parents alike. As a parent you are naturally worried, but always remember that your child looks to you for reassurance and confidence. Preparing your child before the surgical process begins will reduce stress by increasing your child’s understanding of what will happen the day of surgery and facilitate trust in the staff. Providing information at your child’s level of understanding will go a long way in reducing the fear children often feel prior to a surgical procedure. Listed below are some tips to help your child prepare for surgery.
Be open and honest. Children are perceptive and are often aware when parents are upset or nervous, which can cause them to feel nervous. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your child’s surgery team, but be aware that your feelings and non-verbal communication clues may be picked up by your child. Project a calm, supportive, and soothing presence to comfort your child.
Encourage expression of feelings and questions. Allow your child to share thoughts about any misconceptions or fears.
Explain to them what they will experience. Your child will see, hear, smell, and feel so many different things during surgery. Talk to them about what they will be going through and the people they will meet, such as the nurses, doctors, and anesthesiologists.
Bring a comfort item. Encourage your child to choose something special to bring with them on the day of surgery.
Affirm your child’s feelings. Children experience a variety of emotions pre- and post-surgery. It’s okay to be frightened or sad, and your job as a parent is to help them express and channel those feelings appropriately.
Be patient. Children can be expected to be less than perfectly behaved when facing the unknown. All kids may have angry outbursts or tantrums. Give your child lots of love and reassurance that you will be there.
Surgery for children is typically classified as major or minor depending on the seriousness of the illness, complexity of the operation, and expected recovery time. Major surgery are surgeries of the head, neck, chest, and some surgeries on the abdomen. The recovery time can be lengthy and may involve a stay in intensive care or several days in the hospital. There is often a higher risk of complications after major surgeries. These types of major surgery include brain tumor removal; correction of bone malfunctions of the skull and face; correction of spinal abnormalities; treatment of injuries sustained from blunt trauma; correction of problems in the development of lungs, intestines, diaphragm, or anus; repair of congenital heart disease; and the transplantation of organs.
Fortunately, the majority of children requiring surgery is for far-less serious conditions. For minor surgeries, recovery time is short, and children quickly return to their regular activities. Complications from these surgeries are unusual. Common minor surgeries include hernia repairs, correction of bone fractures, removal of skin lesions, tonsillectomy, cochlear implants, and endoscopic sinus surgery.
Increasing your understanding of your child’s surgical needs will play a vital role in his or her surgical experience. Effective preparation will help you and your child feel less anxious and more confident about the prospect of surgery. Your communication with your child helps him or her to feel your love, care, and compassion.
Matthew Moront, MD is the Head of the Division of Pediatric Surgery with Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper University Health Care.