Preparing the School-Aged Child for Surgery
What part about surgery is most stressful for a school-aged child?
If your school-aged child is facing
surgery, it can be helpful to plan ahead if possible. Explain what your child can
expect. It's most helpful to do this about a week or two before the surgery. Preparing
too far in advance can cause more anxiety. Recognizing what is stressful to your
school-aged child while in the hospital can guide you in getting him or her ready for
the surgical experience. Common stressors and fears in the hospital may include:
Being away from family,
familiar surroundings, pets, school, and friends
Thinking he or she is in the hospital because he or she is bad or is being punished
Having a part of the body destroyed or injured
Loss of control
Pain (or the possibility of pain)
Needles and shots
Dying during surgery
How do I prepare my school-aged child for surgery?
Tour the facility with your
child before surgery. This lets your child see the sights, sounds, and events he
or she will experience the day of surgery. It can help your child learn about the
hospital, and gives him or her time to talk about concerns and questions. Ask a
child life specialist to explain what will happen, and why, in terms your child
Check that your child knows
why he or she is having surgery in words he or she can understand. School-aged
children may not ask questions about something they think they are supposed to
know about. This can lead a parent to think the child understands what surgery and
a hospital stay involve.
Have your child explain back
to you what is going to happen in the hospital. School-aged children sometimes
will listen carefully, but not understand all that was said. This can help you to
learn if your child understands of what lies ahead.
Read books about the hospital
or surgery with your whole family.
Give as many choices as
possible to increase your child's sense of control. For example, let your child
choose what clothes, music, or movies to bring to the hospital.
Emphasize that your child has
not done anything wrong and that surgery is not a punishment.
Don't use doctors, nurses,
needles, and procedures as sources of punishment. For example, "If you don't do as
the doctor says, he will give you a shot." Portray the healthcare providers as
caring, helpful people.
Explain the benefits of the
surgery in terms your child can understand. For example, "After your knee has
healed, you will be able to play soccer again."
Encourage your child's
friends to visit the hospital, or to keep in touch with your child by telephone,
email, texts, or with letters and cards.
Young children can practice with a doctor's kit on a stuffed
animal, such as listening to their heart. This can make them more comfortable with
Learn as much as you can
about your child's surgery. Children can tell when their parents are worried. The
more you know, the better you will be able to help explain things to your
A family member should stay
with your child as much as possible. Always tell your child when you are leaving,
why, and when you will be back. If your child will stay in the hospital for
several days, ask family and friends to call and visit often, depending on your
Let your child know that it
is OK to be afraid and to cry. Encourage him or her to ask questions of the
doctors and nurses.
When your child is
stressed, he or she may regress or display new fears, such as being afraid of the
dark. Give many compliments and hugs. Parents should always hold their child's
hand (not restrain him or her—let healthcare professionals do that if it is
needed) during tests or procedures.
Helpful books for you and your child
Claire Ciliotta and Carole Livingston. 1992. Why Am I Going to the Hospital? Lyle Stuart. (Ages 5 to 12)
James Howe. 1994. The Hospital Book. Morrow Junior Books. S. B. Stein. 1985. A Hospital Story. New York: Walter and Co.
Lisa Ann Marsoli. 1984. Things To Know Before You Go To The Hospital. Silver Burdett Co.
Debbie Duncan, Nina Ollikainen (Illustrator). 1995. When Molly Was In The Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children. Rayve Productions, Incorporated. (Ages 4 to 7)
Virginia Dooley and Miriam Katin. 1996. Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital. Mondo Publishing. (Ages 5 to 7)
Paulette Bourgeois, Brenda Clark (Illustrator). 2000. Franklin Goes to the Hospital (volume 25). Scholastic, Inc. (Ages 5 to 7)
Deborah Hautzig. 1985. A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital. Random House/Children's Television Workshop. (Ages 4 to 7)
Marianne Johnston and Erin Mckenna. August, 1997. Let's Talk About Going To The Hospital. The Rosen Publishing Group, Incorporated. (Ages 8 to 9)
Francine Paschal. 1991. Twins Go To The Hospital: Sweet Valley Kids Series #20. Bantam Books. (Ages 6 to 8)
Juliana Lee Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Marilyn Mets (Illustrator). 2001. Good-Bye Tonsils!. Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. (Ages 4 to 8)
Norman Bridwell. 2000. Clifford Visits the Hospital. (Clifford the Big Red Dog ). Scholastic Inc. (Ages 4 to 8)
H.A. Ray. 1999. Curious George Goes to the Hospital. Rebound my Sagebrush. (Ages 4 to 8)
Barbara Taylor Cork. 2002. Katie Goes to the Hospital. Peter Bedrick; 1 edition. (Ages 4 to 8)
Joanna Cole and Bruce Degar. 1989. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body. Scholastic, Incorporated. (Ages 6 to 9)
Anne Civardi and Michelle Bates. 2002. Going to the Hospital. Sagebrush Education Resource. (Ages 4 to 8)