Medical Breakthroughs: Preparing Kids for Surgery

BACKGROUND: Parents play a very important role in preparing children for what to expect before and after surgery. If children are well prepared, they will have a better surgical experience.

Child Life Specialist Chantelle Bennett, says research shows one of the best ways to reduce a child's anxiety is to let them know what will happen, before it happens. Of course, she says, it needs to be tailored to their age and developmental level. Many hospitals offer a pre-operative tour and can help you and your child prepare for surgery.

One mistake to avoid is not telling your child anything. Bennett says sometimes parents try to not worry the child and don't tell them about the surgery. It can be even more traumatic if they are taken to the hospital and don't know why.

AHEAD OF TIME: Knowing what will happen will help reduce their fears.

  • Be careful of showing your anxiety to your child. Younger children especially look to their parents to know how to react to a situation. Talk about your own fears away from the child.

  • Bennett also says it is important not to downplay what may happen. If a child asks if something will hurt, be honest and say you don't know. Each person has a different pain tolerance and what doesn't hurt you, could be painful to him or her. Tell them you are unsure and you will wait to see what they think at the end.

  • With younger children, use play therapy to gauge their feelings. Use a doll to show them what will happen or let them practice on the doll.

  • Chantelle also recommends you listen carefully to the questions they ask. The questions may reveal their underlying fears.

  • Consider other resources such as books or videos. A Hospital Story by Sara Bonnett Stein addresses the need for honesty about the situation and Sesame Street Goes to the Hospital is a video that explains Big Bird's trip to the hospital.

  • Since parents can't be with their child as they go into surgery, it helps to bring a familiar item of comfort with them such as a teddy bear or blanket.

AFTER SURGERY: After surgery, your child will likely be transported to the recovery room for close observation and care. Your child may waken quickly or may sleep for quite some time after surgery. This is not unusual as each child reacts differently to anesthesia.

Once your child is awake, you will be able to stay with your child until they are ready to leave the recovery room. Plan on your child being in the recovery room for at least one hour. Make sure you have explained to them ahead of time where they will be when they wake up from anesthesia and let them know that you will be there.

For More Information, Contact:

Heather Allebaugh
Florida Hospital
616 E. Rollins Street, Suite 103
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 303-1917

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