Comforting Kids Before Surgery

By Andrew Schulman, MD, and Megan Tillery, RN Supervisor

ComfortingKidsSMALLWhether your child is scheduled for a simple procedure, like getting ear tubes, or preparing for major surgery, many of the questions we receive from our young patients (and their parents) are very similar. As medical professionals, it’s important for us to be as open, honest and clear as possible. As pediatric surgeons and nurses, it’s important for us to help moms and dads communicate expectations accurately, with the right amount of reassurance.

Will it hurt?

This is the most common question that patients ask. First, we tell children that they will feel nothing at all during surgery. Afterwards, they maybe sore, but that soreness can be managed with over-the- counter medication or a prescription, if needed.

Will I be awake during the surgery?

If the child is very young, we explain to him/her that we will give them a special type of medicine to help them fall asleep. We reassure the child that he/she will not feel or remember anything from surgery. Occasionally doctors will perform minor procedures in the office where the child would be awake, but for the most part, he or she will be under anesthesia.

Can my parent(s) be with me in surgery?

We tell children that their parent(s) can be with them until they go back to the operating room before the surgery, well after they have fallen asleep. Though no parents are allowed in the operating suite, we like to inform them that many of the doctors and nurses present are moms and dads, and that we promise to treat them with as much care and concern as we would our own children. We assure them that their parent(s) will be there with them when they wake up.

Can I have my blanket/stuffed animal?

Comfort items like blankets and stuffed animals cannot be part of a sterile procedure. However, we reassure patients that they can fall sleep with their favorite item. Afterwards, the nurse staff will make sure that it is kept in a nice, safe place during the procedure and returned to the patient before they wake up.

What, exactly, is going to happen when I am asleep?

Children are smart, and some really want more detail about what is going to happen and why surgery is necessary. It’s important to give enough information to answer their questions, but not so much to cause panic. For major surgeries, we work with parents closely on this question, and we offer these guidelines based on the child’s age, or equivalent developmental ability to understand:

  • Toddlers: We explain that we are going to do something that will fix their problem and make them feel better. We might describe the problem using analogies or rough sketches for children who are a little older and want to know more.
  • Preteens: We offer a little more detail on the problem and the solution. We also try to reassure them by sharing how many other kids their age experience similar procedures.
  • Teens: For teenagers, we typically give them as much detail as they want, and provide them with age-appropriate resources should they want to know more. At this age, it’s important for them to understand what is going to happen so that we can obtain their approval for surgery. Parents give consent to those under 18.

When can I go back to sports/swimming/physical activity?

This varies depending upon the procedure, but generally we instruct children to wait two weeks before returning to sports, swimming or strenuous physical activities. In “kid time,” two weeks sounds like an eternity, so we remind them that recovery is a good time to watch shows, play games and catch up on movies.

Is this a really big deal?

There are times when the task at hand is complex and far from routine. During these times, children and parents can be understandably frightened and fearful of the surgery and outcome. Our communication philosophy remains the same – we strive to be open, honest, clear and reassuring.

The Charlotte region is lucky to have two exceptional hospital systems, along with some of the country’s best medical professionals. We hope that your child will never need surgery, but if they do, know that some of the nicest and most caring people you could ever met are there to help your family through this stressful time.

This blog was produced in partnership with Charlotte ParentClick here for the original post and other parenting resources.