Preparing for Your Child’s Surgery and Anesthesia: A Parent’s Role
Surgery can be an emotional time. Surgery that is to be performed on your child can be especially stressful. There are things you can do to reduce the chance that your fears and anxieties, as a parent, will be transferred to your child. Children who are less anxious and less fearful have an easier time before and after surgery.
Remember your emotions and anxiety level influence your child. Keep calm and in control of your emotions to help your child do the same. Follow the recommendations listed to accomplish this goal. For more information, talk with your child’s physician, surgeon and nurse as well as staff at the hospital or surgicenter.
To Help You and Your Child Before Surgery and Anesthesia:
- Obtain accurate information about your child’s procedure and about what to expect.
- Talk with the surgeon, without your child, to get all the information you need.
- Ask if there is a pre-admission program for children and, if so, participate in it.
- Allow your child to share fears and concerns with you. Do not interrupt, minimize or belittle your child. Let your child know that it is okay to feel afraid.
- Answer your child’s questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer, find out.
- Discuss the separation procedure with your doctor or nurse. How will your child be transferred from you to the healthcare provider? For example, if your child is an infant, will you be able to hold your child until the sedative takes effect?
- Compare the time your child will be in surgery to the length of a favorite cartoon or video.
- Let your child know to expect some pain after the surgery by saying, “When they wake you up, it will probably hurt.”
- Be present for your child’s immediate postoperative recovery period, if recommended by the anesthesia provider. In some settings it may be possible to be present for the beginning of the anesthesia.
- Be there with your child. Sit at the bedside and comfort your child. If appropriate, snuggle, cuddle, hold and touch your child.
- Ask about rooming-in with your child.
- Control your emotions and your behavior. Remember, although you may be very upset and anxious, display a calm, soothing, trusting manner.
- Try to avoid crying in front of your child.
- Take “2” for you! Take two minutes (or longer) out of sight of your child to express your emotions and focus yourself on what your child needs from you — support!
- Be honest. It is wrong to tell your child “it won’t hurt” or that he/she is going to a birthday party when they are really going to the hospital. Telling your child that he or she is going to take a “nap” may raise fears later when the word “nap” is mentioned to your child. Instead, tell your child, “The doctor or nurse will give you medicine to make you sleep so it won’t hurt when the doctor fixes your _____. The doctor and nurse will wake you up when they are done.”
- Alleviate your child’s fears. In no way should you threaten your child by saying something like “If you’re bad, they’re going to stick you with a needle.”
- Give some facts calmly, but without being too graphic or detailed about what your child will experience. If you don’t know the answer, say, “We’ll ask.”
- Remember your role as a parent. Your emotions and behavior can have an impact on your child’s outcome, so take your role as the parent very seriously.
Ask your child’s doctor and nurse what you can do to care for your child after surgery and anesthesia.
LaMontange, Lynda L., Joseph T. Hepworth, Kathleen C. Byington, and Celeste Y. Chang, “Child and Parent Emotional Responses During Hospitalization for Orthopaedic Surgery: More about the Emotional Contagion Between Parental Anxiety and Their Child’s Anxiety,” MCN, American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 22, 1997, pp. 299-303.
Zuckerberg, Aaron L., “Perioperative Approach to Children,” Pediatric Clinics of North America, 41(1), 1994, pp. 15-29.
Web Sites: For a listing of children’s hospitals in the United States, visit UCP.org