Preparing Your Child for Surgery

No one — least of all kids — enjoys visiting a hospital for surgery. You may find it difficult to prepare your child for a hospital stay involving surgery because your child will likely have more questions than you can answer. One way to help prepare your child for a surgery or procedure at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children is to take a tour of the hospital, which can be arranged through the Child Life department by calling (215) 427-5321.

A tour of the Short-Procedure Unit is also available to help prepare children for surgery. If you’re unable to come in for a tour, pre-operative teaching will be provided on the day of your child's scheduled procedure. Our multidisciplinary team will guide both you and your child through the day of surgery. If you have questions concerning your child's procedure or surgery, be sure to ask that day.

Coming in for surgery can be a frightening experience for children of all ages. At St. Christopher’s, you’ll find Child Life Specialists who are trained to help children cope with their hospitalization through preparation, therapeutic play and education. In addition, below are a few age-specific tips you can use prior to surgery and hospitalization to help relieve your child’s anxiety.

Infants (Birth–1 year)

The most common fear of children at this age is separation from you, their primary care giver. It’s important for you to be involved in your child’s care as much as possible and to provide support during his or her hospital stay. Bringing favorite toys, stuffed animals and blankets from home may help reduce anxiety.

Toddlers (1–3 years)

At this age, your child may experience some separation anxiety and have more fears about pain and needles. Children in this age range are becoming more active and independent, and hospitalization can cause a loss of control. It’s important to tell toddlers about their upcoming hospitalization and surgery one to two days before the actual event. Use simple words and phrases that your child will understand. It may also be helpful to read books about coming to the hospital while at home and play with doctor kits and dolls. Reassuring your child that you’ll be able to stay with him or her can also reduce stress and fear.

Preschool (3–5 years)

Hospitalization may be particularly scary for preschoolers because they fear the unknown. Children at this age may think that surgery and procedures are a form of punishment for something that they did wrong. It’s important to talk to your preschooler in simple language about three to five days in advance about going to the hospital. Encourage your child to ask questions and to express his or her feelings. It may also be helpful to read books focusing on hospitalization, play “doctor” with dolls and stuffed animals and allow your preschooler to pack special toys and activities to bring to the hospital.

School-Age (6–12 years)

Children in this age group have a better understanding of different illnesses and why they have to come to the hospital for a surgery or procedure. Their biggest concern may be that their body won’t act or look the same after their surgery. It’s important to begin talking with your child about a week or two before surgery. School-age children will most likely have many questions and concerns, and it’s best to answer them honestly.

Teenagers (13 years and older)

Many teenagers are concerned with how their body will look after surgery, and how their friends will react to any changes caused by their surgery. Teenagers are striving for independence and look to their peers for acceptance and approval. Privacy is also extremely important to teenagers, and hospitalization can be seen as very invasive and as a loss of control over their lives.

Teenagers should be told a few weeks before hospitalization and should be encouraged to participate in decision making about their care. It’s important for teenagers to express their feelings regarding their hospitalization, and it may help to encourage them to keep a private journal or to write down their own questions to ask their doctors.

Contact Us

For more information about preparing your child for surgery or to schedule a tour of the hospital, call the Child Life department at (215) 427-5321.