As scary as surgery is for adults, it can be even scarier for children. Here are four ways that you can help to lessen their fear and ease their minds.
- Make sure you have your game face on. It's normal for parents to be very upset when they have a child who is going to have surgery, but showing that emotion in front of their child is very counterproductive. Your child will be watching your reaction to this experience and will be okay or not okay based on what they see from you. So, you will need to put on your happy face, be very supportive, calming, and sympathetic, even if you feel like a basket case on the inside. Hold your child's hand, and show them that you are confident that the their surgery will come out well, and that everything will go as planned. If you need assistance, be sure to contact a hospital social worker, clergy or healthcare professional for more tips. Remember, be calm and take deep breaths to help relieve some of the stress off of yourself.
- Promptly address any misplaced guilt. It's very common for children to secretly think that their medical condition and the surgery is their fault. They may believe that they are being punished somehow for being bad. Make certain that you reassure your child that this situation is not a result of them being bad. Even if the situation could have potentially been avoided, assure them that accidents do happen. And, for example, if it were a bicycle accident, avoid lecturing them about having not worn a helmet at least until after surgery, and maybe wait awhile until they are well on the mend. They do not need the added stress of guilt as they try to heal.
- Tour the facility with your child. You can make arrangements for you and your child to tour the hospital before their scheduled surgery. They should be able to put on a hospital gown, try on a mask, check out a room, etc. The opportunity for your child to experience the hospital can help ease their fears. Your child will also get to interact with healthcare professionals and see that they are people too. They should also get to see other children there as well.
- Teach coping skills. When you arrive at the hospital, a social worker or child life specialist may have the opportunity to help teach calming skills to your child. Deep breathing and positive imagery are two important skills they may learn. You may even want to teach them those skills at home, if they have not already been taught. Make sure that you provide lots of positive reinforcement. During the recovery process, it is normal for them to feel pain and discomfort. Using those coping skills can help lessen those feelings, and potentially reduce their need to take pain medications.