Hearing that your child needs surgery can be overwhelming for a parent. It’s normal to be worried, but remember, your child looks to you for reassurance. Ilona Scanlon, MS, CCLS, Child Life Specialist at Boon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, provides tips for parents to follow to minimize your child’s worries and make surgery as positive experience as it can be.
Ask questions. Often parents don’t know what to tell their child. Talking with your child’s care team (doctor, nurses or child life specialist) will help you become more confident , relaxed and help you learn what to expect and what to tell your child.
Communicate with Your Child
Fear of the unknown increases anxiety and often what your child imagines will happen is worse than what will really happen. It’s important to be honest and prepare your child about what will happen and what it will be like for them. Being honest and communicating helps your child to develop trust. Allow your child to ask questions about the surgery and encourage them to express their feelings. Try to focus on the positive aspects of why they need surgery. Explain the operation is being done to fix something wrong or to help the child get better.
Provide Realistic Choices to Help Your Child Feel More in Control
Avoid making promises you have no control over. Follow all pre-operative instructions. Bring some personal comfort items. Have your child or teen pack a small bag and help select items to bring to the hospital (favorite stuffed animal, comfy blanket, books to read, a tablet or favorite activity to help with the waiting times). Children and teens feel secure when you are secure-be sure you have all you need to be comfortable.
Ask to speak to the surgery center staff or a child life specialist who may be able to offer suggestions, explanations or additional coping strategies. Ask for a tour. Call to see if they offer a pre-surgery tour or teaching session. A tour can reduce some of the day-of-surgery anxiety by becoming familiar with the facility, meeting the staff and knowing what to expect.