Preparing your Child
Keeping yourself well informed is often the first step to helping deal with your own stress levels. Then by addressing your child's worries and helping them manage their fears, you can help make their hospital experience a positive one. The way you go about this will depend on your child's age. We have some age specific suggestions below.
Start preparing younger children 1-2 days before their operation, and older children 1-2 weeks before their operation.
It is helpful to use ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ when you are talking with them. For example ‘the doctor is going to help you to have a magic sleep in the hospital tomorrow. You are going to be safe. I will be with you before and after your operation’.
Be honest and encourage your child to ask questions. Write down anything they or you are worried about and ask the anaesthetist, surgeon or nurse before their operation. It will comfort your child if you are calm and confident.
When you get to the hospital you will meet a play specialist. They can use ‘hospital play’ to help your child feel more at home. Children have powerful imaginations, and we can use this to direct their attention to something fun. Bring along toys or books for your child and something for yourself to do while you are waiting in hospital.
Deep breathing exercises can help your child feel less anxious. When a child is nervous, their heart rate goes up and they may breathe faster than normal. Deep breathing exercises like belly breathing or blowing bubbles can slow the heart rate and help your child to feel calm.
Preparing your toddler/preschooler
Young children worry about being separated from their parents. They might think that the surgery is punishment for something they have done wrong. Medical procedures and equipment may appear intimidating or frightening. They may quickly develop a deep suspicion of all hospital staff regardless of their role.
Toddlers have a poor concept of time, so we suggest that you tell them about their surgery only a day or two in advance. Pre-school children may benefit from three to five days of preparation time.
Young children are very perceptive and hear every word that is said. However words and phrases with ‘double meanings’ can cause confusion. For example, your child may have heard of a pet being “put to sleep”. If the same phrase is used to explain anaesthesia, your child may think they are going to face a similar fate.
Many children are comforted by familiar activities such as play and reading. An age appropriate book about surgery is something you can enjoy together. A play kit with medical equipment might help them prepare for things they will see in the hospital. Playing may also help your child verbalise worries they have so you can address them before the day of surgery.
Preparing your school-age child
School-aged children often have a very creative imagination. Sometimes this leads them to believe terrible things will happen to their bodies, even for very minor procedures.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and address their fears. Children don’t always understand everything they hear so take the time to check what they think is going on and clarify any points of confusion.
Preparing your teen
It helps to involve teenagers in planning, discussions and decision-making about their operation. Give them privacy when they need it. There is a lot of information online so your support during their online research can be very important.
Child with Autism, ADHD and those needing special care
You know your child best, and how they interact and communicate with others. Write down a list of things you think we should know, like how they behave when they are stressed, what triggers their stress, and the best ways to calm them.