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Preparing Your Child for Surgery

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We understand that surgery or being in the hospital can be a stressful time for you and your child. Knowing what to expect ahead of time may help you and your child to feel less anxious.

One of the best ways to prepare your child is to prepare yourself. You can gather information from your child’s surgeon, nurses, anesthesiologist, child life specialist, and the Family Resource Library.

It may be helpful to bring security objects from home, such as, stuffed animals, toys, pictures of loved ones, favorite blankets and pillows. Children better understand information that is simple and honest.

We recommend different approaches for each age group.

Infants (birth to 1 year)

It will be very important to stay with your child as much as possible. This will allow you to maintain your child’s daily routines of feeding, bathing, and playing.

Keeping a normal schedule creates a secure environment for your infant.

The hospital staff will explain any unfamiliar medical equipment to help you feel more comfortable in participating in your child’s care.

Toddlers (2 to 3 years)  

Toddlers do not understand the concept of time, so it is best to tell your child about surgery or hospitalization 1 to 2 days before.

Allow your child to choose a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or toy to bring to the hospital to provide comfort. It is normal for toddlers to become fussy and have changes in their behaviors.

A simple explanation of why he/she must go to the hospital is best for this age group. Reassure your child that you will be with him/her as much as you can.

Preschoolers (4 to 5 years)  

Tell your child about surgery or hospitalization 3 to 4 days ahead of time. Prepare children in this age group by explaining what they will see, hear, smell, and feel while in the hospital.

Use simple, reassuring explanations without too many details. Avoid words like "shot" and "cut".

It is normal for preschool children to have fantasies or misconceptions about the hospital experience. As a result of not knowing what to expect, they will often use their imagination. Often children think they did something wrong to cause the surgery. Please be reassuring to your child that surgery is not a punishment and it is no one’s fault.

Playing “hospital” or “doctor” before and after your hospital visit lets your child express feelings related to his/her hospital stay. Books about going to the hospital can be helpful.

Provide reassurance that you will stay in the hospital as much as you can.

School Age Children (6 to 12 years)  

Begin preparing your school age child for surgery or hospitalization 1 to 2 weeks ahead of time. School age children often worry about how the surgery will change the way they look. They need details about what they will see, hear, smell, and feel before, during, and after surgery.

Talk about your child’s fears and answer questions honestly.

School age children often worry that they will wake up during the surgery. Explain to your child that there will be a doctor whose job is to make sure he/she stays asleep and does not feel anything during the surgery.

A normal reaction for children is to become angry or quiet while in the hospital. It is important to give realistic choices to allow your child to feel a sense of control.

Teenagers (13 years and older)  

Teenagers need plenty of time to prepare for surgery and hospitalization. Teens have a need for independence and privacy. Surgery or hospitalization may make your teen feel more dependent on others. It is important to include teens in all discussions and decisions about their care. Encourage your teen to make a list of questions regarding the surgery and hospital stay.

Be open and honest when answering questions. Teens need details about what they will see, hear, smell, and feel before, during, and after surgery. Your teen may be concerned about how his/her body will look after surgery and how it impacts daily activities with friends.

Teens sometimes show their anger or frustration by being quiet or refusing medications. It is helpful to support your teen and give him/her realistic choices to provide a sense of control while in the hospital.

Teens may want to inform their friends of their upcoming surgery or hospitalization.

Teens often want to pack their suitcase which may include favorite pajamas, clothing, personal hygiene products, music, and movies.


A variety of resources are available to help you prepare for your child’s surgery or hospital visit. A child life specialist is available to help you learn more about the hospital and take you on a tour. Please contact the Child Life Department at 336-713-3076 to arrange a tour.

  • Watch “Your Operation,” a video made available by the Preoperative Assessment Clinic.
  • Take a Virtual Tour.
  • Visit the Family Resource Library located on 7th floor Ardmore West.

Helpful Tips 

  • Please keep in mind that previous medical experiences can affect how your child will react to hospitalization.
  • Crying is a normal way for children to deal with their fears. Your support is important when your child is afraid or cries. 
  • It is important to maintain a normal routine and activities, such as playing and schooling.
  • Family and friends are encouraged to visit your child. 
  • The best way to prepare your child for hospitalization is to prepare yourself by understanding what will occur.