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Your Child’s Surgery

How do I prepare my preschooler (3 to 5 years)?

You’ll be better able to prepare your child for surgery if you know what they're worried about and how you can help.

What is your child worried about?

Your child may be worried about:

  • the surgery hurting or changing the way they look
  • doing something wrong that may be why they need surgery
  • imaginary things that are w​orse than the actual surgery
  • a loss of control
  • being around people they don’t know
  • being separated from their parents
Talking with Children

How can you help prepare your preschooler?

Give them time to prepare for the surgery. Tell your child about the surgery about 3 to 5 days in advance. Describe what your child will see, hear, and feel.​ Tell them about the people they'll meet and your plans for staying with them at the hospital.

Your child will be curious and want to know what to expect. Choose your words carefully and avoid words that have 2 meanings. For example, don’t describe anesthesia as being put to sleep. This may make them think of a pet being “put to sleep” and that they will die. It’s better to say:

  • “The doctors will give you a special medicine, so you won’t feel anything.”
  • “The doctor will give you medicine that will help you sleep only until the surgery is done, and then you’ll wake up.”

Calm their fears. Let your child know that the surgery is not their fault. Tell them it’s OK to talk about their feelings and that it’s OK to cry or be scared.

Be open and honest. Make sure your child knows why they're going to the hospital.

Preschool children don’t like having things taken from them. Tell your child “The doctor is going to fix your tonsils" instead of "The doctor will take out your tonsils."

Find out what your child thinks about going to the hospital. Preschool children have great imaginations. Your child may be imagining something scarier than the surgery.

Play with your child. Try using a play medical kit to help them explore their feelings and help you spot any wrong ideas they may have about the surgery. It can be helpful to read books that have pictures of medical equipment to make them feel more comfortable.

Your child will worry about being away from you or being with strangers. Make sure someone your child knows is with them at the hospital as much as possible.

Let your child bring their favourite stuffed animal, blanket, toy, or book to the hospital.

Books and ideas to help prepare toddlers and preschoolers for surgery

You may find the following books help prepare your child for surgery:

  • Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margaret Rey
  • Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Sharon Jennings
  • Maisy Goes to the Hospital by Lucy Cousins
  • The Berenstain Bears Hospital Friends by Mike Berenstain
  • My Trip to the Hospital by Mercer Mayer
  • Clifford Visits the Hospital by Norman Bridwell
  • I Don’t Want to Go to the Hospital by Tony Ross​​

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