Although no parent wants to think about having to subject their toddler or preschooler to a surgical procedure, the reality is that it can happen. Knowing how to speak to a toddler or preschooler about surgery is an important step to help your young child be less nervous. Here are some tips to make it easier.
- Consider Your Child’s Age
How you explain the surgery and what will happen will depend on the age of your child. For example, a two-year-old will have a difficult time understanding what surgery is, but a four-year-old can grasp the concept much better. You will want to make your explanations as appropriate as possible for the age of your child to avoid confusion.
- Keep Things Simple
There’s no need to go into the type of detail with a young child that you would with an older child or teenager. Think of how your child relates to the type of environments and people he will deal with on the day of surgery before trying to explain what steps will happen. For example, if he usually enjoys looking at books or playing with toys while in the waiting room, remind him that he may have an opportunity to play for a little bit before the doctor comes. Remind him how nurses take children’s temperatures and mention that a nurse will likely come and see him before he sees the doctor.If he will have to change into a hospital gown, mention that he will change into special hospital clothes that will be comfortable.
- Don’t Alarm Your Child
Don’t say things that might alarm or worry your child, such as “You’ll have to get a shot” or “I may not be able to be with you the whole time” or “The doctor will have to use a special tool to cut open your skin.”Even though these things may seem like no big deal to you, try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. After all, as an adult, you wouldn’t want to hear something unsettling, such as tales of a surgeon’s negligence right before you were about to have surgery. Instead, keep things light by saying something such as, “The doctor is going to make the problem all better.”
- Find Some Story Books
Reading your toddler or preschooler children’s books about surgery can also be helpful and make the whole situation seem less scary. Make sure to preview the book beforehand so that you don’t have any unwelcome surprises while reading. For example, if a story includes details about something being painful, it’s best to avoid it. The goal of reading related stories is to make your child more comfortable with the situation.Be prepared to answer questions your child may have about the story and have a discussion if needed.
- Calm Any Fears Your Child May Have
Your child may worry that the surgery could be painful, especially if he has experienced pain while at a doctor’s office or hospital. You can explain to your child that he will go to sleep while the doctor works to make him better, and he won’t feel a thing. Explain that when he wakes up, you’ll be close by. Take time to listen to anything your child has to say about the surgery, and try to answer any questions he may have as honestly as possible without scaring him or causing him to worry.
- Make Sure Your Actions and Tone Match Your Words
When talking to your child about her surgery, keep your voice calm and reassuring even if you are feeling somewhat nervous about the surgery. Strive to always be positive. Avoid furrowing your brow or conveying any type of worry or anxiety. Your child will pick up on your unease, and it will likely make her more nervous.
- Reassure Your Child After the Surgery
After the surgery, your child may be in pain. Alert the nurse so that pain medication can be administered if allowed. Stay close by your child, and attend to her needs. If your child has to stay in the hospital for an extended period, arrange to have a close friend or relative she trusts come and stay with her when you have to leave.
- Plan Distractions
If your child has a long recovery period, plan some distractions to make things seem less gloomy. Arrange for a visit from a special friend or favorite relative. Buy your child some new books or games. Keeping your child entertained and happy can make the recovery period seem to go by much more quickly.
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