Preparing your child for surgery

Whether for a tonsillectomy or something more serious, preparing your child for surgery will encourage healing and bring you both closer.

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  • One of the greatest stressors for parents is when our children have to undergo surgical procedures. My experiences with children's surgery have run the gamut — from minor things like tear duct openings for our youngest when he was 1 year old to a very complicated open heart surgery for our third child when he was only a week old.

  • Obviously, there wasn't much we could do to prepare our boys for their surgeries because of their ages, but when our 12-year-old had her tonsils removed, we tried our best to make sure she was ready. Whether for a tonsillectomy or something more serious, helping your child feel prepared for an upcoming surgery will help her heal more quickly, and it can even turn the experience into one that helps your relationship grow. Here's how.

  • Tour the hospital

  • Surgery can be scary and overwhelming. If possible, go to the hospital beforehand and take your child on a tour. Help her become familiar with the people she might meet and the places she might stay. Many children's hospitals offer pre-surgery classes. These classes are frequently offered for general surgery as well as more specific types of surgery. Your facility will probably also have "child life specialists" who are trained to help children to be emotionally and mentally comfortable before and after surgery.

  • Explain the "whys" and "hows" of the surgery

  • Research your child's procedure and ask the surgeon, beforehand, such things as average surgery time, what will likely happen during surgery, length of hospital stay, average recovery time, medications needed and expected results. Then, take the time to sit down with your child and explain exactly why he needs to have the procedure done and what will happen. Explain the anesthesia, and help your child understand that he won't feel the surgery. Be honest in an age-appropriate way, giving your child the opportunity to ask questions and express his concerns.

  • Make a "surgery poster."

  • To help your child feel as ready for surgery as possible, make a surgery poster together. Write down or draw the time frame of the big day and what will take place in simple terms. Because your child won't be able to eat or drink before the surgery, help her draw or cut out pictures of some foods she'd like to enjoy after the surgery. Draw or take photographs of all of the items she'll want with her before and after the procedure — a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, family pictures, cozy slippers, music or lip gloss. Include where you and the rest of the family will be while she is in surgery. Make the poster colorful and unique, and include positive affirmations and expressions of how the surgery will eventually help her feel better.

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  • Ask friends and family to contribute to a "get well box."

  • Before the big day, secretly compile a get well box containing cards, pictures and letters from family and friends. You can even include a small new toy or book. Magazines, Sudoku, crossword puzzle books and doodle books can also help older children beat the boredom they will probably experience during recovery. After the surgery, as soon as you feel your child is ready, surprise him with the box. Feeling the support and concern from those around him will help him heal more quickly.

  • Display patience and love

  • Going through a surgical procedure, even a minor one, can be very difficult. Above all, your child needs your love. Make showing her that love a priority. Spend as much time as possible with her as she recovers. Massages, snuggles and uninterrupted conversations can be just as helpful to her recovery as medications and sleep.

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An Idaho native, Deborah Goodman is an editor, writer, and mother of four now residing in Springville, Utah.

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