How to Talk to Your Child about Their Upcoming Surgery

Māmy Syu

 How to Talk to Your Child about Their Upcoming Surgery

The idea of getting a surgical procedure done is already an unnerving one for most adults. For kids who may not fully understand the nature of their condition or the particulars of surgery—and who may be afraid of needles, sharp objects, or encounters with strangers—the prospect of getting surgery may be even scarier. 

How to Talk to Your Child about Their Upcoming Surgery

Paediatric surgery may indeed be the best course of action to address a congenital abnormality, problems in organs like the intestines, kidney, or heart, or lumps and bumps that may cause additional health problems in the future. But it will still come with ramifications like pain, fatigue, and major changes to a child’s everyday routine. Knowing that these things may be on your child’s mind, it is your role as their parent to validate their concerns and to walk them through the physical, mental, and emotional stresses of their surgery. 

Below are some helpful tips for addressing the delicate issue of paediatric surgery, as well as how it will affect your child in both the short term and the long term. These tips will make it easier for you to support your child during one of the most taxing experiences in their lives thus far. 

Be Frank about the Procedure and What It Will Entail

First on the agenda is an honest but age-appropriate discussion on the common surgical problems children have and how paediatric surgical procedures are meant to improve their health and quality of life. It’s important for your child to develop clear expectations about how their surgery will go, especially with regard to how long it will take to complete, how much pain or discomfort they might feel, what medications they’ll be on, and what other precautions they’ll have to observe so that they can make a swift and decisive recovery. 

You can supplement your own account of the event with relevant content from picture books, music, or popular media, all of which may help your child learn about their condition and the particulars of their surgery. Work towards getting your child to clearly understand and visualise what will happen on the operating table, and try to avoid euphemisms and ambiguous language. The latter may confuse your child and cause them to feel scared or even betrayed when they’re undergoing the actual procedure. 

In addition, avoid making any promises about the surgery’s outcome. Instead, let your child know that you are all hoping for the best and that whatever the outcome will be, they will be comforted and supported by their family every step of the way. 

Encourage Them to Verbalise Specific Anxieties about the Surgery

Another thing that you should consider is your child’s biggest source of worry as the date of their surgery draws near. Some children will be most worried about the pain they think they’ll experience during or after the surgery. Others, however, may be most anxious about the invasiveness of the surgery or the idea of entrusting themselves to strangers like doctors and nurses. Still others may be dreading the idea of missing out on school or precious time with their friends, or the idea of being treated differently by peers and adults in the surgery’s aftermath.   

If your child is fearful about their upcoming surgery, try to find out what’s at the root of that fear and see what you can do to help them process it. It would also be good to take concrete action to quell your child’s anxieties. A couple of ways to do this is by letting them meet their surgeon and medical team or by getting their teachers and friends to sign a “Get Well Soon” card for them. 

Ask Your Child about What Will Make Them Most Comfortable Before, During, and After the Surgery

In preparation for the upcoming surgery, ask your child about what you can do to help them feel at ease in a scary and unfamiliar environment. You can suggest bringing their favourite toys, books, or blankets with them to the hospital, or you can propose to watch their favourite movies or TV shows with them in the waiting room. 

Older children, especially kids in their teens, may be bringing their questions about their surgery to the internet in addition to talking to you or their friends. Ask them if they’d like to go through these resources with you and if they’d like you to get additional input from a specialist, such as a relative or family friend who is a medical doctor. Doing so may put their minds, as well as their hearts, at ease. 

Bring Other Paediatric Surgery Patients and Their Families into the Conversation 

Lastly, if your child welcomes the idea, consider talking to other kids who’ve undergone paediatric surgery or parents who’ve gone through similar experiences. If you don’t already know someone, you may be able to find a contact through a family member, friend, or through an organisation that advocates for paediatric patients’ health and wellness. 

It may do a lot of good to involve other paediatric patients and their families in the ongoing conversation about your child’s illness, surgery, and recovery. On top of helping them learn more about the specifics of their surgery, this connection can inspire them to feel more hopeful and less alone about the special burden they carry. 

The prospect of undergoing paediatric surgery will undoubtedly be a daunting one for your child. From the days leading up to the procedure to the days spent on the mend, your child will need all the love and support they can get. Use the tips above to broach difficult but fruitful conversations about the surgery, to comfort your child when they’re feeling especially vulnerable, and to encourage your child throughout their ongoing healing process.

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