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Children and Surgery

Children are special people with special needs. At Nebraska Medicine we hope to make your child’s visit as pleasant as possible. If you would like to have a free consultation with a Child Life Specialist, please inform your physician and mention it during the pre-registration process.

Preparing a Child for Surgery

  • Children must not eat or drink anything 6 to 8 hours before surgery. Double check the specific instructions you received from the surgeon’s office.
  • Children may bring a special toy, blanket, pacifier or something warm and fuzzy. It too can go into surgery. Please make sure it is clean. It will be returned to your child after the surgery.
  • Parents should plan to stay with their child in the pre-op area. For this reason we ask that you not bring other children with you.
  • Your child may be irritable or fussy after surgery. If you are planning on going home the day of surgery, we encourage you to bring another adult to assist you on the drive home.
  • Remember, children pick up on and mimic your fears. Please contact a Child Life Specialist at 402-559-6775 if we can help you with questions or concerns.

General Tips to Prepare the Parent

  • Be assured that your child’s comfort and care is our concern. We will care for your child in a relaxed and safe environment.
  • You play a huge role in preparing your child for surgery as you know them best. Children can sense when you are stressed or anxious. The best plan is to know as much about the surgery so you can prepare and explain things to your child.
  • Take care of yourself and get a good night’s sleep the night before surgery. During surgery, get up and stretch, go get a cup of coffee or take a short walk outside. The better you feel, the better you will be able to care for your child.

General Tips for Preparing Your Child

  • Experts recommend discussing surgery according to your child’s age. The general rule of thumb is to start talking about surgery one day before the procedure for each year of life. For example, begin talks four days before surgery if the child is 4 years-old.
  • Be honest and tell your child they are going to the hospital. Use simple words to describe what will happen and describe the sequence of events.
  • Use only non threatening words such as “The doctor will help you sleep,” or “The doctor will make a small opening.” Do not use words like “sticking, put to sleep, hurt, cutting or pain.”
  • Make the conversation open-ended so they feel able to express fears or questions. As an example: “How do you feel about having a scar?”
  • Reassure your child that they are not alone and that you will be there when they wake up.
Toddlers (1 to 3 years)
Use calm and reassuring tone of voice. Let them choose a favorite stuffed animal or toy to take. This gives a feeling of comfort and control. Provide reassurances, “The doctors and nurses will help you feel better.” Stay calm yourself, children will sense your fears and can trigger their own.
Preschool (4 to 5 years)
Find a quiet time to talk with them and use simple words without great detail. They can be very curious and creative, you can use this imagination to explain going to the operating room and breathing in a special space mask. Make sure they know they did nothing wrong to cause surgery, that it is no one’s fault but the right thing to do.
School-Age (6 to 12 years)
At this age they are very concerned about what surgery may do to alter their appearance. They require more details of events before, during and after. Be honest. Let them express their fears. The biggest issues can be pain, staying asleep during surgery and waking up afterwards. Be supportive and positive and keep the same routine as much as possible. Encourage your child to ask questions and repeat back what they heard.
Adolescent (13 years+)
They need to be included in discussions and choices about surgery. They want to be independent and make their own choices about their care. The more control they can have, the more cooperative they will be. They are very concerned with surgery altering their appearance. Be honest and supportive and discuss any fears they have. Privacy is a must for this age which should be respected as much as possible. Bringing an iPod or handheld game system to play while waiting may help reduce anxiety before and after surgery.

Additional Resources for Children and Surgery

Child Life Specialist
Being at the hospital, around new people and away from home can be stressful for children and their families. Child Life Specialists at Nebraska Medicine help families understand the health-care setting with medical play, reduce stress with pet therapy and promote growth and expression with art. If you would like to have a Child Life consultation, please mention this during your pre-surgical screening or call 402-559-6775.
  • KoKo Bears Big Earache, Vicki Lansky, 1991, Book Peddles. (ages 2 to 8)
  • Goodbye Tonsils, Juliana Lee Hathoff, Craig Hathoff, 2001, Puffin Books.
  • Curious George Goes to the Hospital, H.Rey and M.Rey, 1996, Houghton-Mifflin.
  • Going to the Hospital, Fred Rodgers, 1988, Family Communications Inc. (ages 2 to 12)
  • A Big Operation, Richard Scarry, 1994, Simon and Schuster.
  • A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital, Deborah Hautzig, 1985, Random House. (ages 2 to 8)
  • Rita Goes to the Hospital, Martine Davison, 1992, Random House. (ages 4 to 10)
American Academy of Otolaryngology (info on various health needs)
American Society of Anesthesiologists (info on when a child needs surgery, coloring book and video how to prepare a child for surgery)
American Academy of Pediatrics (info on children’s health topics)

Make an Appointment

Call: 800.922.0000