Preparing Your Child for Surgery

Support from a Child Life Specialist

Many parents ask, "How do I explain a surgery to my child?" At Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital we have child life specialists — pediatric healthcare professionals who help children and families cope with the challenges of hospitalization. Child life specialists reduce anxiety by providing age-appropriate preparation, education and coping strategies.

Studies show that children and teenagers who are prepared before hospitalization have less anxiety and fear, an easier time coping with pain, and fewer complications during recovery.

Our photo prep-book walks through what your child can expect the day of surgery.

If you or your child would like to consult with a child life specialist prior to your visit, please ask your nurse or call 954-265-0551.

"How Do I Prepare my Child for their Surgery?"

Children need to know:

  1. That they are coming to the hospital for surgery.
  2. When they are coming to the hospital.
  3. Why they need surgery.

Here you will find developmental suggestions based on your child’s age to help prepare your child for their visit to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.

  • Bring along familiar comfort items from home (e.g. a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or pacifier).
  • During the period when your child cannot eat, attempt to distract your child by rocking, walking, and comforting him/her.
  • Try your best to remain calm (children can sense your stress, which may cause him/her to get upset too.)
  • Talk with your child about their visit and what they will see. Use simple and honest words. (e.g. "sleep medicine" instead of anesthesia).
  • Have your child help pack a few toys and comfort items for their visit.
  • Children learn through play. Playing doctor at home can help improve mastery and coping. Explain that going to the hospital is not a punishment for being "bad."
School Age
  • Prepare your child a few days to a week before their visit. Explain why he/she needs to visit the hospital.
  • Be supportive and honest. Encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings.
  • At this age, kids may be more fearful of pain. Reassure your child that he/she will not feel any pain during the surgery because of their anesthesia/ "sleep medicine."
  • Talk openly about the visit. Teenagers are often uncomfortable admitting they do not understand explanations.
  • Include your teen in plans and decisions. Encourage them to make a list of questions and participate in discussions.
  • Validate concerns. It's important for teens to know they are allowed to be afraid and to cry. Encourage them to share their feelings with family, friends, and the healthcare team.

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