Preparing your Child for Surgery

Medical play at Doernbecher

Facing surgery can be a stressful experience for your child and your entire family.

Providing age appropriate education for your child before surgery can assist your child in coping with surgery by easing stress and anxiety.   

Use the lists below to assist you and your child when preparing for surgery. 

Be sure to talk to your child's healthcare team if you have questions or need assistance with any preparation.

How do I prepare myself for my child's surgery?

How do I prepare my infant for surgery? 

How do I prepare my toddler or preschooler for surgery?

How do I prepare my school-aged child for surgery?

How do I prepare my adolescent for surgery?

See also

Guide to preparing your child for surgery

Preparing yourself for your child's surgery

  • Be well informed about what to expect on the day of surgery and ask questions to alleviate any concerns you may have.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. Ask for support from family, friends and community to give you breaks when possible.

Preparing your infant for surgery

  • It is important to keep your baby's routine as normal as possible before the day of surgery.
  • Make sure you, your baby and your family are well rested.
  • Bring your baby's favorite security item (blanket, pacifier, etc.) and perhaps some soothing music to the hospital. This will help create a more familiar environment for your baby.
  • Let the nursing staff know what your baby's usual schedule is, including sleep patterns and feeding habits.
  • Make plans for at least one caregiver to be with your baby as much as possible so that they will have familiar touch, voice and smile.

Preparing your preschooler for surgery

  • Explain why your child is having surgery in words he/she can understand.
  • Be honest when answering your child's questions.
  • Read books about going to the hospital with your child (see list below).
  • Allow your child to help pack their own suitcase.
  • Bring a few favorite security items such as a blanket, stuffed animal pictures of family and/or pets.

Books and resources for preschoolers

Going to the Hospital, Anne Civardi and Stephen Cartwright 

A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital, Random House/Children's Television Workshop 

Pooh Plays Doctor, K.W. Zoehfeld 

One Bear in the Hospital, C. Bucknall 

Going to the Hospital, Fred Rodgers 

Franklin Goes to the Hospital, Sharon Jennings 

Corduroy Goes to the Doctor, L. McCue

Preparing your school-aged child for surgery

  • Explain why your child is having surgery in words he/she can understand.
  • Have your child explain back to you what is going to happen in the hospital. This can help you to learn whether or not your child has a clear understanding of what to expect.
  • Read books about the hospital or surgery with your entire family. (see below)
  • Emphasize to your child that he/she has not done anything wrong and that surgery is not a punishment.
  • Explain the benefits of the surgery in terms your child can understand. For example, "After your knee has healed, you will be able to play soccer again."
  • Encourage your child's friends to visit the hospital, call and/or send cards.

Send an email to a patient

Books and online resources for your school-aged child

The Hospital Book, James Howe

Things To Know Before You Go To The Hospital, Lisa Anne Marsoli

Let's Talk About Going To The Hospital, Marianne Johnston and Erin McKenna

What's Inside a Hospital, Sharon Gordon

Kids Health Galaxy

Preparing Your adolescent for surgery

  • Allow your adolescent to be part of the decision-making process. Encourage them to make a list of questions to ask their healthcare team.
  • Our child life specialists can provide age-appropriate explanations and assist your adolescent in finding a variety of resources.
  • Be honest when answering your child's questions.
  • Your child may be reluctant to admit they do not understand explanations. Caregivers and healthcare professionals may need to explain treatment in several different ways, without making your child feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage your child to pick out and bring a few comfort items from home (personal video games or music players, DVD's, books, journal, etc.).
  • Ask your child how they would like to keep in contact with peers while hospitalized. (Would they like visitors, phone calls, text messages, e-mail, etc.?)

Send an email to a patient 

Books and resources for you and your adolescent

Band Aides and Blackboards

Kids Health Galaxy

Your Child in the Hospital: A Practical Guide for Parents, Nancy Keene