Surgery can scare the heck out of kids, just as it can scare adults. These four strategies can reduce fear and ease the journey for both you and your child.
1. Put on your game face. For some parents, the hardest part of their child’s surgery is trying not to fall apart. But your child will be looking to you to see how you’re doing, so you’ve got to be supportive, loving, sympathetic, and, above all, calm. Even if you’re a basket case, put on a happy face, hold hands with your child, and show him that you’re confident the outcome will be positive and everything will go as expected. If you need help getting yourself through this, contact the hospital’s social worker and ask for tips. Taking deep breaths can help you relieve some stress.
2. Banish any misplaced guilt. Young children sometimes secretly believe that their medical problem and the operation is a form of punishment for being bad. Reassure your child that this problem is not the result of anything he did. Even if the problem might have been prevented — say, a bike accident when your son wasn’t wearing his helmet — lay off the lectures until well after his surgery. Say, in a week or two. He doesn’t need the extra stress of feeling guilty when he’s having an operation and trying to recover.
3. Take a tour. Many hospitals have preop tours for children so they can try on a surgical mask, dress up in a hospital gown, handle a stethoscope, and see the kind of bed they will be in. Getting a glimpse of the hospital can take away the fear of the unknown. Your child will see that the staff is friendly and that there are other kids in the hospital who are coming and going.
4. Practice coping skills. The day you arrive, a child specialist or social worker may teach your child calming skills, such as deep breathing and positive mental imagery, but you can practice those at home before you arrive, too. Provide lots of praise and support. During recovery, your child may feel pain or discomfort, and it helps to have ways to offset those feelings and even reduce the need for pain medications.