Talking to Your Child About Surgery
Your child’s stress is shaped largely by your feelings and attitudes about the surgery. Children pick up on a parent’s fear and anxiety, so be aware of the overt and subtle messages you send your child about the surgery. Your child will be less fearful and anxious if you remain calm and matter-of-fact about the surgery.
If your Child is 6 or under
For children under 3, it is best to wait till the morning of surgery to talk with them about the procedure. Give an honest explanation in simple, careful language they can understand. “Make it better” and “fix” are less frightening than “take out” or “cut.” Reassure them they will be okay. Tell them the nurses and doctors at the Surgery Center will take good care of them. Make sure they know that not eating or drinking before surgery will make them safe during the procedure.
For 3 to 6-year-olds, encourage positive pretending and role-playing about the doctor and the surgery center. There are many wonderful children’s books about going to the hospital that you can read together before the surgery.
For Children 7 to 12
Talk with your child before the day of surgery. Give an honest explanation of the procedure and why it needs to be done, in matter-of-fact terms they can understand. Encourage your child to ask questions and to share fears. Be reassuring your child will be asleep for the entire surgery, and you will be close by. Let your child know it is okay to tell the nurse or cry if something is uncomfortable or making them feel worried. Make sure they know that not eating or drinking before surgery will make them safe during the procedure.
For Teens 13 to 18
Respect, privacy and independence are central issues. Reassure your teen their personal privacy will be respected and all information about them will be kept in confidence. Give honest and detailed explanations and answers. Encourage your teen to ask questions of the doctor and nurse. Reinforce that it is okay to express their feelings or concerns, and they are not immature for having fears or tears. Make sure they commit to not eating or drinking before surgery.