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Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock (CHad)
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Talking to Your Child About Surgery

Ideas for child friendly words to use

Instead of:     Try:
Stretcher A bed on wheels
Flush (your IV) Clean out/wash out by pushing a kittle bit of water through (here)
Alcohol/Cleaning wipes This cleans your skin
I.V. I.V. means "into your vein" It’s a tiny tube that carries water (with vitamins or medicine in it) into your vein
Catheter A small or tiny tube
Dressing/dressing change  Bandages; clean, new bandages
Vitals How much you weigh, how tall you are, etc
Take your vitals; take your blood pressure Measure how fast your blood is flowing through your body; measure your….  (through the sticker on your finger or the cuff on your arm)
NPO Nothing to eat or drink – include why, when, and how long.  "Why" need not include threats or specific risks involved.  Say "your tummy needs to sleep too" or "you’re more likely to get sick if you have any food or water in your stomach"
Gas; sleeping gas; anesthesia Sleepy air for your body
Special sleep Different kind of sleep; different from a nap or sleeping at home

Talking to your child about surgery:

Instead of saying:   Say:
This part will hurt …may feel uncomfortable
The medicine will burn some children say they feel a very warm feeling
The medicine will taste (or smell) bad  The medicine may taste different than medicine you’ve had before
Cut you open; make a hole The doctor will make a small opening
The needle goes into your vein; poke; stick The needle will slide in under your skin and into your vein
Size concept: As big as Size concept: Smaller than…
Time concept: As long as… Time concept: For less time than…
Quantity concept: As much as…  Quantity concept: Less than…

Adapted from the ACCH research project (Wolfer, Gaynard, Goldberger, Laidley, and Thompson, 1988)

Ideas for explaining specific surgeries

  • Ear Tubes: A surgery to place tubes to help your ears (ear aches, hearing)
  • Tonsillectomy: A surgery to help you swallow better
  • Adenoidectomy: A surgery to help with breathing while you sleep
  • Circumcision: A surgery to help with the extra skin on your penis
  • Hernia Repair: A surgery to help with the lump or swelling in the (groin) area between your lower stomach and the top of your thigh.
  • Orchiopexy: A surgery to help the part of your body (testicle) that is supposed to be in the sack below your penis move to the right place
  • Cystoscopy: A surgery to help the doctor see how your bladder is working
  • Tympanoplasty: A surgery to help you hear better