The physicians and staff at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) work closely with patients and family to help prepare preschool-aged children for surgery. Our leading pediatric specialists take an individualized and compassionate approach to patient care, working closely with each patient and their family to prepare for surgical procedures. 

For preschool-aged children, it's essential to recognize what might cause your child stress while they're in the hospital. Preschoolers benefits from preoperative planning, education, and explanations. Common stressors and fears for preschool children may include the following: 

  • Fear of being away from family and home, or being left alone
  • Thinking he or she is in the hospital because he or she is in trouble or being punished
  • Fear of having a body part damaged
  • Fear of needles and shots
  • Fear of waking up during surgery
  • Fear of pain (or the possibility of pain)
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of the unknown

The steps to preparing your preschooler for surgery 

While preparing your preschooler for a surgical procedure, there are several steps to ensuring the process is a calm and comfortable one. These steps include:

  • Begin preparing your child for surgery several days before the procedure to give your child an adequate amount of time to prepare physically and mentally for surgery.
  • Tour the hospital before surgery to let your child experience the sights, sounds, and events he or she will experience the day of surgery. You can contact your Child Life Specialist at 720-754-7717 or 720-754-7712 to schedule a tour.
  • Make sure your child knows why he or she is going to have surgery. It is common for this age group to have misconceptions regarding surgery and/or hospitalization.
  • Give very simple, honest explanations and be careful of the words that you use. For example, say, "The doctor is going to give you special medicine to help you sleep, while they fix your arm." Do not say, "The doctor is going to put you to sleep and cut your arm open." 
  • Dramatic play is a big part of preschoolers' life. Using pictures, stuffed animals or toys to help your child understand may be better than simply telling him or her what will happen. Illustrate the situation clearly for your child. Play "hospital" at home before surgery. When possible, use medical equipment the child will encounter during hospitalization including a mask, gown and bandages.
  • Role-play through anticipated sequence of events to enhance the predictability of the situation.
  • Give your preschooler realistic choices, such as "what toy do you want to bring to the hospital?" Realistic choices give the preschooler a sense of control.
  • Allow your child to help pack his or her own suitcase. Bringing a favorite security item, pictures of the family and pets, and a special toy can be very comforting.
  • Explain the benefits of the surgery in terms your child can understand. For example, "After the doctor fixes your arm, you can play basketball again."
  • Learn as much as you can about your child's surgery. Children can tell when their parents are worried. The more you know, the better you will feel and the more you can explain things to your child.
  • Make sure to stay with your child as much as possible to provide comfort and security.
  • Be patient with your child. It is normal for him or her to require more attention. Your child may have temper tantrums or be uncooperative. It is common for your child to return to bedwetting or thumb sucking. The regressive behavior will usually improve after the stress of the procedure has passed.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. Simplify your life during this time and do not be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Remaining positive and stress-free can help reduce your child's anxiety. 

Helpful books for you and your preschooler to read together 

In the process of preparing for surgery, it can be helpful to read stories about children's surgeries and hospital experiences with your preschooler. Recommended books include: 

Barney and Baby Bop Go to the Doctor by M. Larsen

Franklin Goes to the Hospital by S. Jennings

Pooh Plays Doctor by K.W. Zoehfeld

Chris Gets Ear Tubes by Betty Pace & Kathryn Hutton

Good-Bye Tonsils by Juliana Lee Hatkoff

Tubes in My Ears: My trip to the Hospital by Virginia Dooley

Koko’s Big Ear Ache: Preparing Your Child for Ear Tube Surgery by Virginia Dooley

Going to the Hospital by Usborne First Experiences

Learn more

If you're looking for more information about preparing your toddler for surgery, or you'd like to schedule a tour of the facilities at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, please call your Child Life Specialist at 720-754-7717 or 720-754-7712. If you'd like to schedule an initial appointment, please call us at 720-754-1000.