How to help kids prepare for surgery

August 17, 2015 Stephanie Wilding, MS, CCLS

Being scheduled for a surgical or sedated procedure can be a nerve wracking experience for children and their families. Knowing what to expect when you visit the hospital can help relieve many common fears and concerns. At Swedish, Child Life Specialists help children and families cope with the hospital process. Child Life Specialists are available to help educate and prepare children and families prior to surgery.

The pre-operative tour is a great place to start. The tour is a specially tailored, one-on-one session with you and your child with a Child Life Specialist. Brothers and sisters are welcome, too, as they usually have questions and concerns about their loved one having to be in the hospital. The surgical tours will take you through all the areas that you will be in during your surgery and will cover where do you get ready, who do you talk to, how do I get my sleep medicine, where do I wake up and so much more – and all in language that kids understand.

Research shows that prepared and educated children do better with coping and are less traumatized by their hospital experience. If you’re unable to make a pre-op tour before your surgery, there are several things you can do at home to help prepare your child for surgery:

  • Be honest. It’s important to talk about having to come to the hospital for surgery or a procedure. Younger children should be told 2-3 days prior and older children can talk about it a few weeks in advance. Using books and guides are all great ways to prepare for your surgery. You can also talk to a Child Life Specialist over the phone if you are unable to come in for a tour. We have more age specific tips on how to talk to your child here.
  • Staying calm and confident will go a long way in helping your child be calm and prepared themselves. Talking about the procedure in a matter of fact and calm mannercan greatly help your child. Children can pick up on your own worries and feel that something maybe horribly wrong if you are upset. Know that you are with your child during the entire pre-operative experience. Our goal is to have you reconnected with your child as soon as the procedure is over and they are in the wake up area.
  • Bring comfort items. If there are favorite stuffed animals, blankets or toys, make sure that they come along for the day at the doctors. Older children are welcome to bring any tablets, smart phones and hand held devices to keep them busy during the check-in process. 
The Swedish Child Life team is here to help you. You can call Child Life at 206-386-6283 to schedule a tour or discuss the surgery/admission process to help you and your child prepare for your visit to Swedish.

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