Getting ready for surgery is tough for everyone, even adults who have had procedures before, but children can struggle even more with the idea. It's natural for a child to feel anxious, fearful, or even depressed about surgery. They might not be able to understand all the reasons why, especially at a very young age. If your preschool child is scheduled for surgery, there are some things you can do to help them feel more confident about the procedure.
1. Don't mention the surgery too early.
Children have longer to worry about an upcoming procedure if you mention it several weeks in advance. Start preparing your child for surgery about two or three days before the scheduled appointment. If the surgery is "on call" (meaning you won't know if your child will have it until the call comes just day or even an hour before), it can be hard to know when to mention the surgery. However, if you've given a general timeline, work within the timeline as best you can.
2. Invest in some new toys.
Get a toy medical kit and play together with your child. Explain what each piece of the kit does. For example, a toy needle might give people medicine so they don't feel pain during surgery. The toy scalpel might help a doctor make an opening to fix what is inside your body. A small x-ray shows boys, and a stethoscope listens to the heartbeat. You child can feel more confident about surgery when they have more knowledge about doctors and instruments.
3. Teach your child about the body.
You might have already taught your child about arms and legs and noses and eyes, but start having a talks about the "unseen" parts of your body. You might have them feel their pulse or heartbeat, and explain that is a heart that helps pump blood to all the other parts of your body. You can explain what bones are and show how the bones in the hands and feet are visible even from the outside. Explain what bones do. Depending on what type of surgery you child is having, you can use this knowledge to explain in simple terms what the surgery is meant to help.
4. Choose your words carefully.
Try to use neutral or non-threatening words when explaining the surgery to your child. Children associate good and bad with their past experiences, so words like "cut" and "burn" may increase their anxiety. Instead of saying, "The doctor is going to cut open your leg to fix the bone inside," say something like, "The doctor will make an opening in your leg to fix the bone inside." You might explain how anesthesia works by saying, "The doctor will provide medicine to make you sleep, just like going to bed at night. When you wake up, the surgery will be over."
5. Prepare the senses.
You want to explain to your child what they will see, feel, and hear during surgery. You might explain what the walls will look like, who the doctor is, and what the surgery room is like. Explain that there might be bright lights, and a lot of shiny tools on trays near the operating table. Tell your child what the table is, and how it might feel cold when you first lie down on it. These might seem like simple things to explain, but a preschool child likes to feel prepared with knowledge and understanding. On the day of the operation, when your child does come to the hospital, they will feel reassured by the expectations you gave them.
For more information, contact a general surgeon's office, like one at Van Wert County Hospital, in your area.Share