What Parents should know:

Knowing how to prepare your child for hospitalization/surgery can be a crucial factor in helping him/her to cope effectively with the experience. Parents are the most important resource for answering your child's questions, so it is vital that you understand what will happen during your child's experience with the hospital/surgery.

You may wish to bring your child to the hospital before the surgery for a tour and special pre-operative preparation. Tours are offered on ???  at ??? AM and ??? PM. Please call ??? to schedule a tour. 
Preparation for younger children (one to four years) should occur as close to the event date as possible. 
Toddler (One to Two years)

Parents should:

  • Provide simple, honest explanations to their child's questions. Avoid promising what will or will not happen because it is difficult to predict what may be necessary for medical care (example, "you won't have any shots").
  • Focus on the fact that surgery helps them get better (avoid any feelings that the child is being punished).
  • Prepare to provide support and reassurance:
  • Bring a favorite toy, security object, or familiar item with the child that he/she may take with him during the time that you will be separated (please be sure to write your child's name on their personal objects)
  • Bring books or small toys that can be used for distraction during waiting times
  • Separation anxiety when your child is taken to the operative suite is a normal response during this age. It is expected that your child will object to the separation. This can be helped by:
  1. Telling your child that you will leave and will see him again after he "wakes up from his nap and returns to his room"
  2. Make sure the nurse knows the appropriate name/nickname your child is accustomed to and things you do for comfort when he/she is fussy
  3. Make sure your child has his familiar security item
  4. Introduce your child to the nurse who will be with him/her in your absence (the nurse will provide support/cuddling as needed during the time your child is away from you). Frequently, children stop fussing soon after the parents are out of sight.
  • Prepare to keep the child's routine for care as much as possible (bring sippy cup that they are used to, or other familiar items used in their care).

Children between three to seven years should prepare about one week in advance to allow them time to think of and ask any questions they may have. 

Pre-school (Three to Five years)

  • Careful preparation and teaching before surgery is extremely important for relieving anxiety
    • books/pictures about hospitals or surgery
    • opportunity to play- with medical equipment (toy medical kit, hospital tour/coloring books)
    • use carefully chosen words to provide explanations as children of this age take meanings very literally (i.e., anesthesia mask is "special air", going to sleep is "becoming sleepy" or "taking a nap", surgical incision is "opening into" or "fix" (don't use the words "cut" or "knife"), operating table is "special bed", recovery room is "wake up room"
  • Repetition is important; children of this age may need the same concepts explained several times
  • Bring favorite toys/books for distraction during wait times
  • Regressive behavior can be normal during these times

School age child (Six to Twelve years)

  • If possible, schedule a hospital tour before the surgery. Adequate preparation can greatly reduce anxiety during this age
  • Use anatomically correct models/pictures for teaching about their procedure
  • Answer questions honestly; explore reasons behind questions to get at underlying fears
  • Involve the child in decision making when possible
  • Bring activities to keep the child entertained/distracted during wait times

Adolescents (Thirteen to Seventeen Years); the timing of preparation for older children is not critical.

  • Avoid "talking down" during pre-op instructions; use correct models and correct medical terminology. Find out what they already know to avoid re-teaching a familiar concept.
  • Provide privacy and confidentiality when discussing their illness/procedure with them.


During your pre-operative tour/instructions, arrange to leave other children at home so that you may focus on supporting and helping your child to prepare for the surgical event. Your child's siblings may demonstrate anxiety for their brother/sister and for themselves. Depending on the age, it may not be helpful for the sibling to visit their brother or sister in the hospital if it produces more anxiety. It will be important to explain to the siblings the nature of the illness, who will care for them while you are at the hospital with their brother/sister, and for how long.

Comfort after Surgery

  • Every effort will be made to keep your child comfortable after his/her procedure. To assist in this effort, your child will be asked to rate his pain according to a number from one to ten. For children ages 4 to 10, a faces scale will be used. Explaining this process to your child before surgery will help to more accurately determine his level of comfort afterwards.


Click here for a Printable chart