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Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock (CHad)
In This Section

Age Appropriate Information About Surgery

Information by Age Group

Infants: 0-12 months

Photo: Three babiesCommon causes of stress for infants

  • Separation from parents
  • Unfamiliar caregivers
  • Strange sights, sounds, and smells
  • New and different routines
  • Interrupted sleep

How you can help

  • Make sure you and your baby are well-rested.
  • Attempt to remain calm; your baby can pick up on your stress.
  • During the period when your baby cannot eat, attempt to distract your child by rocking, walking, and comforting him/her.
  • Bring a favorite blanket or pacifier to the hospital. It may also be helpful to have a familiar bottle for use after surgery or procedures.

Toddlers: 1-3 years

Photo: Child in bedPlan to begin preparing your toddler a day before his/her procedure. Preparation too far in advance can cause more anxiety.

Common causes of stress for toddlers

  • Being left alone
  • Loss of comforts
  • Stranger anxiety: contact with unfamiliar people
  • Medical equipment
  • Restricted mobility

How you can help

  • Toddlers like to make choices, so offer some whenever possible. For example, have your toddler choose which toy to bring or which shirt to wear.
  • Explain who the staff is and what they will do before it happens.
  • Provide simple explanations and be careful of your wording. For example, say "The doctor is going to fix your leg." Do not say "The doctor is going to make a cut on your leg."
  • Read books with your child about going to the hospital.

Book recommendations

  • Anne Civardi and Michelle Bates. 2002. Going to the Hospital. Sagebrush Education Resource.
  • Joanna Cole and Bruce Degar. 1989. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body. Scholastic, Incorporated.
  • Deborah Hautzig. 1985. A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital. Random House/Children's Television Workshop.
  • Fred Rogers. 1988. Going to the Hospital. G. P. Putnam and Sons.
  • Richard Scarry. 1995. Big Operation: The Busy World of Richard Scarry. Aladdin Paperback.

Preschoolers: 3-5 years

Photo: Boy with maskCommon causes of stress for preschoolers

  • Being left alone
  • Fear of having a body part damaged
  • Fear of needles and shots
  • Fear of pain or the anticipation of pain
  • Interrupted routines

How you can help

  • Explain what the hospital will be like in honest and simple terms, and answer all questions. For example, if asked about pain, explain to your child: "Yes it will hurt, but not for long."
  • Explain to your child why he or she is having the scheduled procedure. Preschoolers often feel they have done something wrong and surgery is their punishment for being "bad."
  • Choices can increase your child's sense of control, so offer them when appropriate and possible.
  • Have your child tour the facility prior to the procedure. DHMC offers a Sneak-a-Peek tour for surgery.
  • Read books with your child about going to the hospital.

Book recommendations

  • Paulette Bourgeois, Brenda Clark (Illustrator). 2000. Franklin Goes to the Hospital (volume 25). Scholastic, Inc. (ages 5 to 7)
  • Norman Bridwell. 2000. Clifford Visits the Hospital. (Clifford the Big Red Dog ). Scholastic Inc. (ages 4 to 8)
  • Anne Civardi and Stephen Cartwright. 1993. Going to the Hospital. EDC Publishing. (ages 3 to 6)
  • Joanna Cole and Bruce Degar. 1989. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body. Scholastic, Inc. (ages 6 to 9)
  • Barbara Taylor Cork. 2002. Katie Goes to the Hospital. Peter Bedrick; 1 edition. (ages 4 to 8)
  • Virginia Dooley and Miriam Katin. 1996. Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital. Mondo Publishing. (ages 5 to 7)
  • Debbie Duncan, Nina Ollikainen (Illustrator). September 1995. When Molly Was In The Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children. Rayve Productions, Inc. (ages 4 to 7)
  • Deborah Hautzig. 1985. A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital. Random House/Children's Television Workshop. (ages 4 to 7)

School-aged: 5-12 years

Photo: Boy playing gamesPlan to begin preparing your child a week before his or her procedure. Preparation too far in advance can cause more anxiety.

Common causes of stress for school-aged children

  • Loss of control
  • Fear of pain or the anticipation of pain
  • Fear of needles and shots
  • Fear of waking up during surgery

How you can help

  • Make sure your child knows why he or she is having surgery. School-aged children may feel they have done something wrong and surgery is their punishment for being "bad."
  • Explain the benefits of your child's surgery. For example, "After your arm has healed, you will be able to play baseball again."
  • Choices can increase your child's sense of control, so offer them when appropriate and possible.
  • Ask your child to explain back to you what is going to happen at the hospital. This can help you learn whether or not your child has a clear understanding of what to expect.
  • Have your child tour the facility prior to his or her surgery. DHMC offers a Sneak-a-Peek tour for surgery.
  • Let your child know it is okay to be afraid and to cry.
  • Because school-aged children have a great deal of imagination, be sure to talk to them honestly. Encourage your child to ask questions and provide honest answers to eliminate misconceptions.
  • Read books with your child about going to the hospital.

Book recommendations

  • Paulette Bourgeois, Brenda Clark (Illustrator). 2000. Franklin Goes to the Hospital (volume 25). Scholastic, Inc. (ages 5 to 7)
  • Norman Bridwell. 2000. Clifford Visits the Hospital. (Clifford the Big Red Dog ). Scholastic Inc. (ages 4 to 8)
  • Claire Ciliotta and Carole Livingston. 1992. Why Am I Going to the Hospital? Lyle Stuart. (ages 5 to 12)
  • Anne Civardi and Michelle Bates. 2002. Going to the Hospital. Sagebrush Education Resource. (ages 4 to 8)
  • Joanna Cole and Bruce Degar. 1989. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body. Scholastic, Inc. (ages 6 to 9)
  • Barbara Taylor Cork. 2002. Katie Goes to the Hospital. Peter Bedrick; 1 edition. (ages 4 to 8)
  • Virginia Dooley and Miriam Katin. 1996. Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital. Mondo Publishing. (ages 5 to 7)
  • Debbie Duncan, Nina Ollikainen (Illustrator). September 1995. When Molly Was In The Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children. Rayve Productions, Inc. (ages 4 to 7)
  • Deborah Hautzig. 1985. A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital. Random House/Children's Television Workshop. (ages 4 to 7)
  • James Howe and Mal Warshaw. 1994. The Hospital Book. Morrow Junior Books. (ages 7 to 12)
  • Marianne Johnston and Erin Mckenna. August, 1997. Let's Talk About Going To The Hospital. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. (ages 8 to 9)
  • Lisa Ann Marsoli. 1984. Things To Know Before You Go To The Hospital. Silver Burdett Co. (ages 9 to 12)
  • Francine Paschal. 1991. Twins Go To The Hospital: Sweet Valley Kids Series #20. Bantam Books. (ages 6 to 8)
  • H.A. Rey. 1999. Curious George Goes to the Hospital. Rebound by Sagebrush. (ages 4 to 8)
  • S. B. Stein and G. Kliman. 1985. A Hospital Story. New York: Walter and Co. (ages 4 to 8)

Teenagers: 12-18 years

Teens like to be active participants when it comes to decision making; attempt to act as partners when making decisions with your teen. You and your teen can begin learning and preparing as soon as the decision to have a procedure has been made.

Common causes of stress for teenaged children

  • Loss of control
  • Change in appearance
  • Fear of surgery and its risks
  • Fear of pain
  • Fear of dying during surgery
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Concern with body image

How you can help

  • Respect your teen's need for privacy, and his or her concern about body image.
  • Talk openly and frequently about what is going to happen.
  • Teenagers are often uncomfortable admitting they do not understand explanations. Parents and healthcare professionals may need to explain the procedure and treatment several different ways without making a teen feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage teens to bring a few comfort items from home, such as books, hand-held video games, and CD players.
  • Be truthful in answering questions. Teens can become angry if they feel they are being lied to.
  • Have your teen tour the facility prior to surgery. CHaD offers a Sneak-a-Peek tour for surgery.
  • Have your teen read books about going to the hospital or having surgery.

Book recommendations

  • A. J. Hill. 1999. The Patient's Guide To Anesthesia. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp.
  • Theodore Tyberg and Kenneth Rothaus. 1995. Hospital Smarts. New York: Hearst Books.

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