Age-Appropriate Information About Surgery

You can help your child have the best experience at CHaD by preparing in advance for his or her procedure. This page lists age-specific tips for ways to reduce and possibly avoid causing anxiety for your child as you prepare for a visit to CHaD.

Information by age group

For a list of recommended books about illness, medical visits, and other topics for each age range, see the Child Life Program's Websites and Books page.

Infants: 0 to 12 months

Image
Three infants playing

Common 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 or 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.

Supporting your child as anesthesia is being started (induction)

  • Read a favorite book.
  • Listen to music.
  • Sing or talk. Simply hearing a familiar voice can be comforting to infants.

We have toys, music, and boys available at the CHaD PainFree Program or you can bring items from home.

Additional items to consider bringing

  • A car seat or stroller. These are helpful when you are leaving the hospital.
  • Formula and bottle (if used), or a favorite sippy cup. Children can typically resume their regular diet after their procedure

Toddlers: 1 to 3 years

Image
Toddler in a hospital bed

When to prepare: Plan to begin preparing your toddler the day before his or her procedure. Preparation too far in advance may increase their anxiety.

Common causes of stress for toddlers

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

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 are 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.

Supporting your child as anesthesia is being started (induction)

  • Read a favorite book.
  • Sing, count, or tell a story.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Listen to music.

We have toys, music, movies, and books available at the PainFree Program or you can bring items from home.

Additional items to consider bringing

  • Diapers or pull-ups
  • An extra set of clothing
  • A favorite sippy cup and snack for after the procedure
  • A stroller. This is helpful to have when leaving the hospital.

Preschoolers: 3 to 5 years

Image
Boy with mask

When to prepare: Plan to begin preparing your preschool-aged child three days before his or her procedure. Preparation too far in advance can increase their anxiety.

Common 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.

Supporting your child as anesthesia is being started (induction)

  • Read a favorite book.
  • Sing, count, or tell a story.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Listen to music.

We have toys, music, movies, and books available at the PainFree Program, or you can bring items from home.

Additional items to consider bringing

  • Pull-ups or extra underwear and clothes
  • A stroller. This is helpful to have when leaving the hospital.

School-aged: 5 to 12 years

Image
Boy playing with a Game Boy in a hospital bed

When to prepare: Plan to begin preparing your child one week before his or her procedure. Preparation too far in advance can increase their 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 misunderstanding.
  • Read books with your child about going to the hospital.

Supporting your child as anesthesia is being started (induction)

  • Read a book or tell a story.
  • Sing or listen to music.
  • Tell jokes
  • Use guided imagery or thinking of a “happy” or “vacation” place.
  • Watch movies or play video games.
  • Play I Spy games

We have toys, music, movies, and books available at the PainFree Program, or you can bring items from home.

Additional items to consider bringing

  • Change of clothing/underwear

Teenagers: 12 to 18 years

When to prepare: Teens often appreciate being treated as active participants in decision-making. You and your teen can begin learning and preparing as soon as the decision to have the procedure is 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. Parents and healthcare professionals may need to explain the procedure and treatment several different ways to help a teen fully understand and become more comfortable.
  • Encourage teens to bring a few comfort items from home, such as books, tablets, phone, games, music, soft blankets, slippers, or a favorite pillow.
  • 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 about going to the hospital or having surgery.

Supporting your teen as anesthesia is being started (induction)

  • Read a book.
  • Sing or listen to music.
  • Tell jokes.
  • Use guided imagery or thinking of a “happy” or “vacation” place.
  • Watch movies or play video games.
  • Play I Spy games.

Recommended reading resources for teens