Surgery can frighten even the toughest grown-up. Imagine how scary it must seem to the five million children who undergo an operation each year.

You can’t make all the pain and fear go away. But preparing your child for surgery increases the odds things will go smoothly. According to Joy Hume, RN and director of the main operating room at Sky Ridge Medical Center, take these steps to calm your young patient:

  1. A few days before: Explain the surgery to older kids five to six days in advance. For toddlers, wait until the procedure is two to three days away. Use simple, clear words. Emphasize how the surgery will help your child’s health.
  2. The day before: Your child may need some pre-surgical tests. Ask if you can take a tour at that time. Walk your child through what will happen before and after the procedure. Explain where mommy or daddy will be during the entire procedure.
  3. The day of: Keep yourself calm. Children can read your body language. You may feel nervous, but try your best not to show it. This comes easier if you’ve prepared yourself, too. Read any information the doctor or surgeon gives you beforehand. Ask questions about what to expect and how to care for your child afterward. Also pack a hospital bag. Include favorite toys and pillows to remind your child of home.

“Always answer questions honestly,” says Hume, whose nurses from Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Sky Ridge play an important role in the pre- and post-op experience. “Focus on the positive. But don’t say everything will be painless and easy. This can actually frighten your child more and reduce the trust between you. If you need help finding the right words, please ask us as we are happy to help.”

Should your child need to spend the night in the hospital, Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children has futons or pullout beds in each room so a parent or guardian can spend the night. “The more comfortable our parents are, the more at ease are our patients,” she adds.