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My child of four years (and eight months) is soon having surgical treatment. I want to prepare them in the best way possible for the trip to the hospital and best manage any distress around the associated procedures to undergo surgery.

Note this is not a request for medical advice - we have that available. The condition being treated is an umbilical hernia and the recommended treatment is a short surgical operation under general anaesthetic.

The hospital are obviously experienced at giving care on the day of surgery, but I want to support my child as best I can, giving some advance warning and support.

In particular, I want to:

  • give reassurance; I want them to feel safe and as content as possible in the lead up to and during the process.
  • avoid deceptive information and surprises; I want to ensure my child is not traumatised and continues to trust me and my partner at the end of the process.
  • justify the need for surgery; tricky as it's not necessary, but is the normal treatment for such a condition, though it may re-occur so I don't want my child to feel their body is inadequate or "wrong".

Many parents must have gone through something similar - what did you do that you felt worked well? Would you do anything differently looking back? Are there any resources you have found that would help? There are some very good medical TV shows aimed at children, including Get Well Soon, and I plan to watch the episodes Operation and Cannula with my child.

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    You might want to prepare them for the IV and maybe catheter if there is one (or at least it's after-effects. Because one of the things that surprised and freaked me out the most after waking up from tonsils was the IV in my hand because I thought I was done when I woke up but I had this thing stuck in me. And then the removal of the UV which is different enough from the removal of a vaccination needle to be freaky.
    – DKNguyen
    Jun 18 at 18:59
  • You could try to find a book which is discussing the visit at hospital, anesthaetic, wake up, stay for some days and go home again. I searched for "Children Story Surgery" and found a lot of books for different age range. Also I would ask the hospital staff, when you need to leave the room and allowed to come back and if your child may be awake at this points. So you can explain this also to your child. Jun 20 at 14:59

3 Answers 3

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As someone who has a now 9 year old boy who was operated on an umbilical hernia when he was 3 I feel like I am in the perfect position to answer :D

The key thing we found was the most helpful was to focus on the mechanical problem. My son was always interested in technology, so we explained the surgery in a way you would repair a toy car.

"There is a small hole in your body which is not supposed to be there. So the doctor will take a look at the problem and will fix it. And then you are good to go again! And the best thing is: You will be asleep the whole time, so you will not even notice it."

He was really interested and fascinated the whole process through, he chatted with the nurses right before his operation about all the cool medical equipment everywhere. He was so curious about everything, he never even thought about getting anxious. And why would he? He is just getting repaired, nothing else.

And what always helps: He got a gift for the time being (it was a stuffed animal that made many different sounds) as he had to lay in bed for a while.

So the key here is to not transmit your fear unto your kid. Of course we were freaking out when he was in surgery, but you are not helping anyone if your kid freaks out too.

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  • +1 for "don't transmit your fear"
    – Hilmar
    4 hours ago
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I told my kids about any appointment where they would get vaccinations or any dentist visit where they would get fillings 7 days in advance.

Their reactions went like this:

  • day 1 - clearly uncomfortable
  • day 2 - concerned, asking their first questions
  • day 3 - concerned, asking more questions
  • day 4 - complaining, telling me they don't want to go
  • day 5 - asking again why they need the appointment/treatment
  • day 6 - acceptance, no more questions
  • day 7 - boredom

Once they reacted with boredom I knew they were ready for the appointment/treatment.

The day of the appointment/treatment they would revisit all of their feelings listed above, but having talked through their feelings and questions for many days, they were prepared, there were no surprises, and things went smoothly.

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Usually when this happens, most would reassure their kids and tell them they have to go for a operation. If you want to avoid your child feeling their body is inadequate or "wrong", just keep away from that part of the topic. Especially for younger children, they tend to think a bit less of it ( I may be wrong ).

Additional point, try to be there for your child. This is one thing many children look for in parents, and most feel comfortable and reassured seeing their parents caring for them during operation or right befote it. You can reassure them the operation is short.

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