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Children and Surgery

Preparation Begins at Home: Tips for Parents

The hospital experience can be positive for children if they know what to expect. Children who are aware of what they will see and do are generally less anxious than children who have no information.

Regardless of age, most children want to know:

  • what will happen to them in hospital,
  • whether they will be harmed,
  • if you will be with them, and
  • when they will be going home.

It is normal

It is normal for children to have fears about going to the hospital. Try not to ignore these fears. Respond to them with lots of hugs and comforting. You may not know all the answers but your child will recognize and appreciate your attempts to be honest and supportive with them. Your involvement in your child’s hospital care will help him/her feel that life is safe and normal.

When to Prepare

Preparation can reduce anxiety.  Everyone’s needs vary. The following information is intended as a general guideline.

  • 2-3 years of age > 2-3 days in advance
  • 4-7 years of age > 4-7 days in advance
  • 7 years and up > 1 or 2 weeks in advance

Steps you can take

Prepare Yourself

Learn all you can about what will happen when you and your child come to the hospital.  If you know what is ahead on the day of the surgery you can feel more confident in supporting your child.

Suggested resources:

  • Refer to the handouts given by your surgeon
  • Online photo tour (for surgeries at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital)
  • Preadmission Tours (for surgeries at Victoria General Hospital) 250-727-4049
  • Books from your local library

Be Honest

Talk honestly with your child about what will happen. Because we want to protect our children from painful, unpleasant things, we sometimes hide the truth and cover up with cheeriness. This is not wise. Your child must be able to rely on what you say. Answer questions and listen to the child’s concerns. If you don’t have the information, phone the hospital or doctor to find out.

Honesty is important because:

  • It maintains your child’s trust
  • It minimizes your child’s anxiety of the unknown
  • True facts may be less frightening than the child’s exaggerated imagination
(the above info is adapted from the Canadian Child Life Institute)

Rehearse

  • Play and rehearse with your child by playing hospital or operation. Use a play doctor’s kit and Band-Aids; make your own hospital beds or paper masks from found household items. 
  • Help your child choose a special toy or security object such as a stuff toy or blanket to bring to the hospital.
  • Practise distraction or coping strategies to help your child cope with the difficult moments such as singing a favourite song, counting, telling a story or breathing together.  Be sure to share your strategies with hospital staff.

Choose words that matter

Using words that are simple and non-threatening when speaking with your child is helpful to reduce anxiety. Telling your child every detail of the surgery can create more worries. It is better to focus on sensations he or she might feel such as:

  • What your child will feel
  • What your child will hear
  • What /who your child will see

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