Has your child’s doctor said he or she will need to have surgery? This can be a scary time for the child and parent. But there are some things you can do to help ease your child’s anxiety and ensure a smoother experience.
Laura Lovell is a Child Life Specialist at Children’s of Alabama. She says the most important recommendation is to be honest with your child. “We encourage you to be honest with your child,”Lovell says. “We have a lot of families come in and the first thing they say is, ‘We didn’t tell them why we’re here.’This adds a lot of stress in addition to being in an unfamiliar environment.”Lovell says a lot of the anxiety can be lessened by talking with your child in advance about what they can expect.
Lovell recommends parents have honest conversations that are age appropriate for the child. For a younger child, she recommends looking for toys that are similar to what the child would see in the hospital. Most toy stores have doctor’s office toys that may include items like a stethoscope or a blood pressure cuff. Lovell encourages parents to engage younger children in role play, or encourage the child to play “doctor”with a stuffed animal.
Lovell also recommends a child bring a comfort item with them the day of surgery. “We do encourage them to bring something of comfort with them, whether that’s a blanket, or a stuffed animal or a toy, something they can have as they’re going back to the operating room and waking up in recovery,”she says.
Older children and teens can benefit from special attention as well. When preparing a teenager for surgery, Lovell says older kids can typically benefit from a little more detail. “We encourage the teens to ask questions,”she says. She adds that teens may want to bring an item of comfort too like a favorite blanket.
Children’s of Alabama and all pediatric facilities are especially geared to respond to the needs of children. “We cater to children, we have an amazing staff that will go through and explain everything to the child,”Lovell says. “We give them opportunities like choosing a flavor for their mask. There are choices they can make so they feel empowered to be part of their care.” If a child is especially anxious prior to surgery, parents can schedule a pre-surgery tour. Lovell recommends contacting the child’s pediatrician to request that tour through the Child Life Department.