Preparing the Preschooler for Surgery
What part about surgery is most stressful
for a preschool child?
Preschool-aged children can benefit
from preoperative planning, education, and explanations. Begin preparing your child
several days before the procedure. This will give your preschool child time to absorb it
all. Recognizing what is stressful to your preschool child while in the hospital can
guide you in preparing him or her for the experience. Common stressors and fears in the
hospital may include the following:
Fear of being away from
family and home, or of being left alone
Thinking he or she is in the
hospital because he or she is in trouble or being punished
Fear of having a part of the
Fear of needles and shots
Fear of waking up during
Fear of pain (or the
possibility of pain)
Fear of the dark
How do I prepare my preschool child for
Most preschoolers have a fear
of the unknown. Tell your child about the surgery several days before the
procedure and perhaps even visit the hospital for a tour. Many hospitals will
allow you and your child to visit before surgery. This can help 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 it gives him or her time to talk
about concerns and questions he or she may have. Contact the hospital's child life
department for this service.
Tell the truth in simple
terms, and answer all of your child's questions, for example, "Yes, it will hurt,
but it will not last long."
Talk with your child about
why he or she is going to have surgery. It's not uncommon for this age group to
have misconceptions about a hospital stay. Often, children think they have done
something wrong or that needles are given to kids who are "bad."
Dramatic play is a big part
of a preschooler's life. Using pictures, stuffed animals, or toys to help your
child understand is better than simply telling him or her what will happen.
Illustrate the situation clearly for your child. Ask a child life specialist to
help explain what will happen, and why, in terms your child can understand. Also
discuss therapeutic play activities, such as playing "hospital" with your child at
home before he or she is admitted for the procedure.
Give very simple
explanations, and be careful of the words that you use. For example, say, "The
healthcare provider is going to fix your arm." Don't say, "The healthcare provider
is going to make a cut on your arm." If you describe anesthesia as "being put to
sleep," your preschooler may think of a family pet that died and wonder if he or
she will die, too. A better way to phrase it might be: "A healthcare provider will
help you sleep (a different kind of sleep than how you sleep at night) during the
operation, and he or she will wake you up after it is over."
Your child may enjoy reading
books about the hospital with the family. Point out the parts of the story that
your child may experience.
Let your child to help pack
his or her own suitcase. Bringing a favorite security item, pictures of family and
pets, and a special toy can be very comforting.
Explain the benefits of the
surgery in terms your child can understand. For example, "After the healthcare
provider fixes your arm, you can play ___."
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 feel and the more you can help explain things
to your child.
Stay with your child as much
as possible to provide comfort and security.
Be patient with your child.
It is normal for him or her to require more attention. Your child may have temper
tantrums or be uncooperative. It is not unusual for your child to return to
bedwetting or thumb-sucking. The regressive behavior will usually improve after
the stress of the procedure has passed.
Remember, too, to take care
of yourself. Simplify your life during this time and don't be afraid to ask for
help from family and friends. Remaining positive and nonstressed can help reduce
your child's anxiety.
Helpful books for you and your
Anne Civardi. 2005. Going to the Hospital(First Experiences). Usborne
Publishing Ltd. (Ages 3 and up)
Fred Rogers. 1997. Going to the Hospital. Penguin Young
Readers Group. (Ages 2 to 6)
Deborah Hautzig. 1985. A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital.
Random House for Young Readers. (Ages 4 and up)
Richard Scarry. 1995. A Big Operation (The Busy World of Richard
Scarry). Aladdin Paperback.
Debbie Duncan. 1995. When Molly Was in the Hospital: A Book for
Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children. Rayve Productions, Incorporated.
(Ages 3 and up)
Paulette Bourgeois. 2011. Franklin Goes to the Hospital. Kids Can
Press. (Ages 3 to 8)
Virginia Dooley. 1996. Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the
Hospital. Mondo Publishing. (Ages 4 to 7)
Juliana Lee Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff.
2004. Good-Bye Tonsils! Puffin Books.
(Ages 4 to 8)
Norman Bridwell. 2000. Clifford Visits the Hospital.
Scholastic Incorporated. (Ages 4 to 8)
Margret Rey, H.A. Ray. 2010. Curious George Goes to the Hospital.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Ages 4 to 7)
Barbara Taylor Cork. 2002. Katie Goes to the Hospital. Brighter
Child. (Ages 5 to 8)
Joanna Cole. 1990. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body.
Scholastic, Incorporated. (Ages 4 to 8)