Helping Your Child Prepare for Outpatient Surgery

Preparing for Surgery: 1 to 6 years

If your child is between the ages of 1 and 3, it is best to wait until the morning of surgery to discuss the procedure. Give brief but honest explanations using simple, carefully chosen words. Words such as “fix” and “make it better” are less threatening than “cut,” “incision” and “take out.” Reassure your child that the surgery or diagnostic procedure is not a punishment. Do not threaten your child with a medical procedure or with doctors or nurses. Emphasize that eating and drinking before surgery will make your child sick. For children from 3 to 6 years, encourage pretending and role-playing. If possible, read books with your child about going to the hospital and having an operation.

Preparing for Surgery: 7 to 12 years

Many of the guidelines for younger children apply to children of this age; however, you should discuss the surgery and hospitalization before the day of surgery. Give a matter-of-fact explanation of the procedure and why it needs to be done. Allow your child to ask questions and discuss his or her fears with you. Reassure your child that he or she will stay asleep for the entire surgery. Tell your child that it is all right to cry if something is uncomfortable.

Preparing for Surgery: 13 to 18 years

Reassure your teenager that privacy will be respected as much as possible and that all information is kept in confidence. Give detailed answers to questions, and encourage your teenager to ask questions of the doctor and nurse. Reinforce that it is all right to cry. Don't refer to him or her as a "baby" for crying or having fears. Allow as much independence as possible.

If you have questions about preparing your child emotionally for surgery, please contact a specialist in Children's Child Life Department at 412-692-6366.

As your child's date of surgery grows closer, learn how to prepare the weeks before.