To Tell or Not To Tell?

By Janice Nellis, MS, CCLS

child life specialist with young patient before surgerySo your child is having surgery.  As a parent you are feeling anxious and have multiple questions running through your head.  How successful will the surgery be?  Will my child make it through the surgery ok?  Will my child be able to do the things they could do before surgery?  How much pain will there be?  Will I be able to be with my child when they go to sleep?  Will I be able to stay at the hospital with my child?  How do I talk to my child about the surgery?  Do I tell them at all?

This is all normal!  It is important for parents to talk with their child’s caregivers prior to the day of surgery and have all their questions answered.  The better prepared you are as a parent, the less anxious you will feel about the whole experience.  The less anxious you feel as the parent, the less anxious your child will feel.

As far as answering the question “how do I talk to my child about the surgery or do I tell them at all,” you can contact a Child Life Specialist to help you with this.  A Child Life Specialist is trained to help prepare children of all ages for their surgery experience.  Honesty really is the best policy.  Although it may be difficult to tell your child that they need to go to the hospital and have surgery, if we don’t tell them what to expect we run the risk of losing their trust.  At Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, the Child Life Program offers a pre-admission program to pediatric patients and their families.

At a pre-admission preparation visit, you and your child will be provided with the information that will help you feel ready for the day of your child’s surgery.  You will be able to see where you will be going on the day of your surgery and meet some of the staff that may be taking care of you.  Children are given the opportunity to learn about the hospital/surgery experience through play involving the use of medical equipment as well as view a movie about having surgery.  This hands on learning helps them to gain control over their situation and learn techniques to cope with their surgery.  Your Child Life Specialist will walk you through the events of the day of surgery and give you a tour of the Children’s Hospital if your child will be staying in the hospital after surgery.

Research has shown that “most children prepared for medical procedures experience significantly lower levels of fear and anxiety as compared to children who are not prepared. Preparation also promotes long term coping and adjustment to future medical challenges.”  (Preparing Children and Adolescents For Medical Procedures, Child Life Council, 2007)

For further information about how to talk to your child about surgery or to schedule an appointment for a pre-admission visit, contact the Child Life Program at 315-464-7506.

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