Hospitals 101: A child's guide to surgery

November 15, 2011

Experts say, preparing your child for a stay in the hospital not only makes it less scary, but can mean a better, healthier outcome.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has a terrific step-by-step guide to prepping your child for a visit to the hospital. The tips are included below.

The hospital's website also has a wonderful children's link called the Kids Health Galaxy. It offers a virtual tour of the hospital, animated movies of typical surgeries, an explanation of some of the standard hospital equipment, a list of what to bring/expect at the hospital, and fun games for children ages 6-12 years old.

The site takes a lot of the fear factor and mystery away so that your child and your family can concentrate more on the health issues at hand and the recovery.

In general, doctors urge parents to be honest with their children and provide accurate information about the health problem they have and the surgery or procedure that's coming up. Then you should give your child a chance to tell you how he/she is feeling and to ask questions. Your child may be worrying about something that isn't likely to happen or about some unrelated issue.

Very small children tend to worry about bodily injury most; kids 6 to 12 worry about being embarrassed and bodily hurts; teens tend not to ask as many questions. That makes it look like they understand more than they do. Give more detail anyway.

Here are other suggestions from the CHOP pros:


A. If your child is under age 5, talk to them one or two days ahead of the surgery. Older children should be told 4 days to a week ahead so they can ask questions and get more information.
B. Tell your child the truth about whether the surgery will hurt. If the IV or incision is going to be painful, be honest.
C. If you don't know the answer to your child's question, tell them you don't know and promise to find out.
D. Use simple language that your child will understand.
E. Encourage your child to keep discussing his/her feelings and asking questions. Don't force the discussion if your child isn't ready.


A. Emphasize that the stay is temporary.
B. Reassure your child that you will be there often, even staying overnight when possible.
C. Pack together for the hospital stay, letting your child bring personal items like their own pajamas if that's allowed.
D. Point out similarities to home and the hospital like regular meals, chances to play, having your own bed.
E. Include the whole family in one of the pre-hospital talks.
F. Borrow a library book that describes a hospital stay and read it to your child.
G. Ask about tours or websites that are kid-friendly and do one with your child.

For more information, we've put a link to the CHOP website at the end of this article.

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