September 19, 2019
Surgery is scary, even for adults. When a child needs an operation, preparing them for surgery can be nerve-wracking. You may wonder what will happen during the procedure, how they’ll respond to anesthesia and what is going through their mind. Children who are too small to truly grasp the concept of what’s happening may react fearfully, which is why it’s important to help them understand what they’re facing before the surgery date.
Talking to Your Child About Anesthesia
Don’t avoid talking about the surgery. Children who are old enough to understand will naturally be wondering what’s in store, but they may hesitate asking because they are afraid or don’t want to upset you.
Walk them through the procedure while offering plenty of reassurance. Tell them that the doctor and their staff will give them some special medication to make them fall asleep so they don’t feel anything during the operation.
Some children will have more questions than others. You can skip over any technical or possibly graphic details and instead give a generalized description of the procedure. Smaller children do not need to be worried by the greater details of an operation; they just need to feel safe and assured that everything will be okay.
Make sure that you avoid any frightening language such as, “You’ll be given gas” or “The doctors will put you to sleep.” Do not mention any needles, tubes or other medical instruments. If your child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t lie. Instead, assure them that you will talk to the doctor.
Make Sure You Address What Comes After
Parents may fixate so much on preparing their child for surgery that they make the act seem permanent. Ensure your child that they will wake up and see you as soon as the operation is over. Let them know that it’s okay to feel weird or hurt a little after the surgery, but the doctor will give them medicine to make sure they’re comfortable.
Children react differently coming out of anesthesia; some may be groggy, others may cry or become nauseated. All of these are normal, and the anesthesialogy team will closely monitor your child to make sure they are responding normally.
Do Not Lie
Make sure that your child knows they are having surgery and will be staying in the hospital afterward. If it’s an outpatient procedure, then reassure them that they will get to go home right away. Children may ask if the surgery will hurt, and you should be honest. Tell them that things might hurt after, but you will be there. Doctors and nurses will take good care of them and give them medicine to make sure they aren’t in pain.
Many children’s hospitals have staff who are trained at preparing children and their families for surgery. Some hospitals allow children to tour the OR before their procedure, and picking out fun toys and movies to watch afterward can make things feel less out of control.
Make sure you take care of yourself, too. It’s okay to be nervous or afraid, especially when it comes to high-risk procedures. It never gets easier, no matter how many times your child goes into the OR. You may have to keep a brave face in front of them, but allow yourself to cry and talk about your fears with your loved ones in private.