25 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Ask the expert: how do I prepare my child for surgery?

The key to this is to try to explain in as child-friendly a way as possible

Russell Hemmings.
19 Aug 2016 | 12:00 am

My eight-year-old son has a health problem for which he needs to undergo a surgery. I am worried about how to prepare him without frightening him. Any suggestions?

I’m sorry to hear your little boy has to have an operation and I understand your desire to make the whole process as easy as possible for him.

When our children are facing something as momentous as an operation, it can be just as upsetting for the parents as it potentially is for the child. A parent’s natural instinct is to protect and shield their child from anything that could cause them distress and so it is hard to try to explain to them that this is for the best. I’m sure the challenges will be worth it in the end though.

Thankfully, it sounds like the operation is not being done in an emergency situation and you have some time to make sure your son understands what is going to happen. This will help him to cope and also to make a good recovery once it is over.

The key to this is to try to explain in as child-friendly a way as possible. A good place to start is with stories that explore the situation and show positive outcomes. In this way he will absorb the key points. Make sure, when you talk to him about his illness, that he also understands clearly why he needs the operation, what the operation will do for him and how much better he will feel afterwards.

It might be worth contacting the hospital where his operation will take place to see if he can visit beforehand. In my experience, children’s wards are usually bright and cheerful, so taking the fear of the unknown away will help.

When you are discussing what is going to happen, really take the time to listen to him and answer his questions as fully as you can. Kids are often more resilient than we give them credit for, so without scaring him, be honest and this will help him to process the experience much more effectively. But make sure you avoid frightening language like ‘they will put you to sleep with the gas’ as this can create worrying associations. Instead find gentler ways of phrasing things and think carefully about how you are going to answer his questions beforehand.

One of the main worries for most people, and particularly children, is that they will feel pain, so make sure you reassure him that you’ll be there when he wakes up and the medical staff will respond quickly to make him feel better.

You could also teach him some relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing and positive visualisation, where he imagines himself, fit and well, doing something he enjoys. This will give you both something to focus on if you find his anxiety begins to heighten, prior to the operation.

Of course it’s important for you to make sure you are well armed with all the information you might need, so if you have any questions for the doctors or nursing staff, make sure you ask them. Writing them down beforehand will be helpful.

Finally, when it comes to actually going to hospital and perhaps preparing to stay in there for a little while, then it’s worth getting your son involved in those preparations. Make sure you take along his favourite toy or the object he gains most comfort from and also ensure you have plenty for him to do if he is confined to bed for quite some time.

Preparation is everything and I know that if you take the time to go through things carefully with him, you’ll both feel more able to deal with the challenges and he will be back to his healthy self in no time.

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Russell Hemmings.

Russell Hemmings

Life coach, and clinical and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist. More info: / 04 4273627 / 055 2867275.