A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Surgery doesn’t have to be scary for kids

Dad giving daughter kiss on the forehead.

Prepare kids for surgeries or medical procedures without scaring them by telling them what they will see and do at the hospital.

When kids need surgery or a medical procedure, it can be a major source of anxiety for them and their parents.

Kids often are afraid of pain, anesthesia, being away from parents, the hospital environment and not being in control of the situation, said Dr. Kathleen Dominguez, a Marshfield Clinic pediatric surgeon.

Talking to kids about surgery in a reassuring way can make the experience less scary for them and for you.

Tell kids about the surgery or procedure

Don’t let the surgery or procedure be a surprise. Most kids handle surgeries and procedures well if they are prepared with appropriate information.

“Be as honest as possible without telling them anything unnecessarily scary,” Dominguez said. “The right amount of information depends on their age and how much they understand.”

Talk to younger kids in general terms. Let them know the doctor is going to fix a problem that could make them sick. It happens while they are asleep at the hospital. They will have a cut that may feel a bit sore.

Older kids and teens usually can handle more detailed information about the problem and what happens if it’s not fixed. Encourage your child to ask questions about the surgery or procedure.

Tell kids what happens before and after surgery. They put on a hospital gown and a child life specialist stays with them until they fall asleep. After surgery, you see them as soon as you can. They may have to stay at the hospital overnight for doctors and nurses to check on them.

Don’t talk about worst-case scenarios

There’s always the possibility of problems or complications with surgery, but it’s not good to mention worst-case scenarios to kids,” Dominguez said.

Kids pick up on parents’ anxiety and feel scared if they know that you are.

Parents can feel reassured knowing many daily activities are riskier than undergoing surgery or anesthesia. Complications usually are minor and can be taken care of easily, she said.

Bring distractions

Bring books, games, toys, stuffed animals and your child’s favorite blanket to the hospital when your child has surgery.

These items help distract your child from anxiety, boredom and discomfort and make him or her feel safe.

A special treat or activity planned after you leave the hospital gives your child something to look forward to.

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