How Do You Explain Surgery to a Child?

As a parent, you should be aware that the idea of surgery and hospitalisation can be terrifying and stressful for children. Furthermore, you must never forget that your child will always look to you for reassurance. If they are facing surgery soon, it can be helpful to let your child learn as much as possible about their condition. It would also be beneficial if you demonstrated calm behaviour and explained what will occur in terms your child can follow along with. 

In this article, we will be going through how you should explain and prepare your child to help them get through it with a clear and calm mind. 

How do I prepare my child for surgery?

When a child requires surgery, parents frequently experience anxiety and may even fear for their safety. However, it would help if you always kept in mind that you are not powerless as a parent. While surgeons and other expert personnel perform the procedure, you also play a role. You can help your child prepare for everything from their hospital stay to their recovery following surgery. 

No one knows your child as well as you do. This knowledge and the fact that you are their lifelong guardian qualify you to assist before, during and after the operation. Firstly, it is best to discuss with your child how they may feel about going to the hospital and having surgery. Open the conversation by asking your child whether they have any questions. You may wish to ask a few questions of your own to determine how your child feels and clear up any misunderstandings they may have about the operation. In an effort to comfort your child, you may be tempted to make false or sugar-coated statements. However, it is essential to be truthful and straight to the point. 

Explain to your kid why they are going to the hospital in the first place. Let them be aware that it will be painful, but they are strong enough to overcome it. Reassure them that the doctors and nurses will make sure they will be as comfortable as possible, and it will be over before they know it. 

Clarify that the hospitalisation is temporary and that your child will return home as soon as the doctor gives the all-clear. Mention similarities between the hospital and your homes, such as the availability of regular meals, playtime, and one’s own bed. Some children believe surgery and hospitalisation are their “punishment” for being “bad,” so reassure your child that it is not her fault.

Children may be angry, depressed, anxious, or emotional. Do not tell your child that being angry is wrong; instead, ensure that he channels his anger appropriately. Tell him that being afraid is normal and that it’s okay to cry, and let them know you will be by their side through it all.

Provide as much physical and emotional comfort as you can. Even older children may require your assistance more during this time. Hold your child’s hand and provide extra hugs following surgery, especially if they are in pain.

As much as possible, accompany your child to the hospital. When you cannot attend, attempt to find a family member or close friend your child is comfortable with to stand in for you. We know how much your child relies on you to get them through this challenging time, and if they must stay overnight, having a caregiver or loved one will make them feel more at ease. Consult with your child’s healthcare provider to determine the available options.

Speak with your child’s surgeon

Take the opportunity to converse with your child’s assigned surgeon to acquire basic facts before you explain the situation to your child if they are unaware of the upcoming surgery. Thus, you will be prepared to answer their inquiries when you discuss the surgery. There are critical details about your child’s health that you must share with the surgeon during your appointment. 

Remember that the mother’s medical history may be as important as the child’s. Questions regarding drug use may sound peculiar to a paediatric patient. However, the inquiries refer to the mother’s habits, as opposed to those of a teenager, who may have used drugs in the past.

In addition to material relevant to the child’s age, general knowledge is quite helpful when preparing for surgery. Knowing the risks associated with surgery might help you make a more educated decision. Take the time to study about anaesthesia, including the type of anaesthesia that will be administered and who will administer it.

An anaesthetist (commonly known as an anesthesiologist) is a trained physician who administers general anaesthetic medications and constantly supervises your child throughout the surgery. To ensure the safety of the general anaesthetic, your child will need to fast before surgery. You will meet the anesthesiologist who will be caring for your child prior to your child’s surgery. 

This often occurs the morning of the surgery, but you may also meet them a few days beforehand at a pre-admission appointment. They will ask questions about your child’s health, including medical problems, allergies and whether they have had general anaesthesia before. They will also explain what happens to your child in the operating room and answer any questions you have about anaesthesia. 

How you explain it to your child will vary according to their age

After thoroughly understanding your child’s circumstances, you can explain them to them. How, how much, and when you do this depends on your child’s age, degree of comprehension, and typical response to novel and stressful events. All children should be informed that they are heading to the hospital for surgery. Parents should also provide some basic information about what hospitalisation will be like and when the child will be able to return home. Most children older than three will be able to comprehend a straightforward explanation.

Everyone, even your child, might exhibit behaviours when confronted with the unknown or a new experience, such as surgery. Toddlers may weep and be irritable. They may become extraordinarily clinging and difficult to comfort and soothe. Children of school age may resume bedwetting or thumb-sucking or develop new phobias, such as a fear of the dark. Teenagers may become distant, and even ignore discussions about the surgery. Every child may experience angry outbursts or tantrums. Give your child lots of affection and reassurance that you will be present during his surgery. Remember that his altered behaviour will typically improve when the treatment or surgery has passed.

You are aware of how much knowledge your kid can process and comprehend. It would be mindful to inform the doctors and nurses. Thus, you and the staff will be prepared for your child’s reactions prior to, during, and following the procedure. Providing your child with a sense of control over at least one part of their hospitalisation can significantly reassure them. Allow younger children to be present when you prepare for the hospital stay, and allow them to choose a comfort object or favourite toy to bring with them. Additionally, older children and adolescents should carry a few comfort things, such as phones, tablets, or gaming consoles.

Here is a list of Dos and Don’ts you should keep in mind when talking to your child: 

Do’s

  • Always be patient with yourself. Reduce the stress of your life as much as possible. Don’t be frightened to decline your everyday responsibilities. Get ample rest and eat a healthy diet. Ask family and friends for assistance whenever they are available.
  • If your child asks you to draw a cartoon about going to the hospital, write a tale to help you communicate the concept to them in an essential manner. After reading the story with your child, you should discuss the many themes of surgery they may want to learn about.
  • Tell your child when they can stay with you and how frequently they will visit.
  • Inform your child about the date of the operation and the duration of their hospital stay.
  • Get children some books with hospital-themed tales to help them better comprehend hospital visits.
  • Making sure your youngster knows the procedure will aid in their recovery.
  • Before and after the operation, puppets, dolls, and stuffed animals can be used to play “hospital.” This can aid your child in comprehending and coping with the event and provide insight into how your child is experiencing it.
  • Bring a favourite toy, doll, soother, or blanket to the operating room and reassure your child that it will be waiting for them when they awaken. Your youngster may love assisting you in packing these items before your hospital visit.
  • Explain to your child that they will not feel, hear, or see anything throughout the operation as a result of the anaesthetic. They will remain asleep during the procedure but will awaken once it has concluded. Since many kids have heard of a pet being “put to sleep” and never waking up again, avoid using these terms to describe sleep medication. Or, you may explain to your child that they are distinct.

Don’ts

  • Do not give false hope to your child and make them think there won’t be any needles. Most hospitalised children have experienced getting poked by a needle at some point. Tell your kid that they will discover strategies to make getting through a needle easier.
  • Do not make promises regarding the procedure and the hospital that you may be unable to keep. Your child will quickly adapt to changes by providing only factual information and being more trustworthy.
  • Do not respond to questions for which you do not have an answer. If you are unsure how to respond to your child’s questions, tell them you will find out. You can jot the questions down and ask your child’s nurse or doctor for clarification.
  • Do not guarantee your child will never experience suffering. Children have varying degrees of postoperative pain. Fear of pain is likely the most frequent anxiety associated with undergoing surgery. Tell your child that they will be given pain medication and that you will teach them alternative ways to relieve despair.

Contacting a child life expert

If you are having trouble finding a trustworthy doctor to handle your child’s surgery, then we recommend one of the best paediatric surgeons in Perth. Dr Jill is a Paediatric Consultant Surgeon with over two decades of experience in the specialty of Paediatric Surgery. She was raised in Melbourne and Perth, attended Methodist Ladies College in Kew, Victoria and Claremont, Western Australia, studied Medicine at the University of Western Australia and graduated as a medical doctor in 1985.

Her extensive public hospital experience was acquired during employment at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, Hollywood Hospital, Fremantle Hospital, Royal Perth Hospital, Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital, Osborne Park Hospital, Kaleeya Hospital, and Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, United Kingdom. High-quality healthcare and evidence-based clinical practice are Dr Jill’s priorities in the delivery of service in Paediatric Surgery.