How to prepare a child for surgery is hard. My son had his first surgery at 5 months, second surgery at 10 months, and third surgery at 6 years old. He also had a handful of day surgeries between the ages of 1-6. My daughter had day surgery when she was 15.
Preparing them for surgery is super hard at any age. Each stage has its own issues. You also have to prepare for the recovery. Day surgery requires different planning than the recovery at the hospital. Also, and this is important, you have to prepare yourself for the surgery! It’s going to take a toll on your mental and physical health.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional in any form. This is solely my opinion based on my experiences as a mom helping her children through surgeries. I am Canadian and my children were in Canadian Children’s Hospitals.
Baby’s Having Surgery
Baby’s having surgery is SO HARD! Your hormones are probably still going crazy and now you have to give this itty bitty human that you are still worshiping over to a stranger to operate on them.
The first hell you are going to go through is fasting before surgery. Babies eat REGULARLY. They’re still waking up throughout the night to feed, and you have to ensure they don’t eat for 8 hours. Do not plan to drive! Your nerves are going to be shot and you’ll be sleep deprived. Arrange to have someone drive you and stay with you for emotional support.
The next hell is when you have to hand them over. I broke. I was so scared of the situation, I almost ran away with my son multiple times before the surgery happened. Then I had to go through the hell of waiting for the surgery to be over. My son’s surgeries were 3 and 6 hours long, soooo eternity.
Younger Kids Having Surgery
Younger kids are easier to prepare for surgery as you can talk to them in terms they “understand”. Honestly, they understand but don’t understand. They’re scared but also excited. It’s a hot mess of emotions they go through, but unlike babies, they can communicate and can fast easier.
I firmly believe children should be involved with their doctor’s appointments and be aware of their medical information (in age-appropriate terms). My son has always been aware of his issues and has been encouraged to ask questions. He has a wonderful team of doctors and nurses that have worked with him. I have always made going to doctor appointments exciting and did the same for surgery.
Suggestions to make surgery “fun” for them:
- New cool PJ’s
- New cool housecoat
- New cool slippers
- Favourite books they already have or new books they’re excited to read
- Favourite boardgames or new boardgames
- Toys they can play in bed with
- Colouring books, stickers, etc.
- If they’ll be on a soft food diet have them pick out puddings, ice cream, jello, popsicles, etc.
Make them excited for the day while preplanning what they’ll need to survive the recovery.
Teens Having Surgery
Teens are more similar to adults. Make sure you talk to them and they’re aware of what to expect. Also, check in on them with their emotions. Teens tend to not show emotions easily so check in with them, but don’t push them. Just be there.
After the surgery, continue to offer them support. When my daughter had surgery I offered to sleep on her floor, something I 100% assumed she would roll her eyes at. I was wrong. I ended up sleeping on her floor for over a week at her request.
Now that we’ve touched on how to prepare a child for surgery depending on their stage of life, we need to address how to prepare for surgery vs day surgery.
Talk to your doctor or search the internet to find out what you need to recover from their particular surgery.
Typical things you will need for their recovery:
- Ice Packs (magic bags have been used for every surgery recovery in my house, but stock up on tons of different types and sizes)
- Heating Pad
- Advil and Tylenol will more than likely be a guarantee
- Soft Food if they will be on a soft food diet ( click here for my soft food diet recommendations)
- Pillows. I have so many different pillows to help aid with surgery recovery. My favs are this V shaped pillow and a chair pillow that’s similar to this one.
- Heated Blanket
- Tray for them to eat in bed with
- Gravel in case they get sick from their meds
- Check to see if they need any pads, gauze or tape. If they do I highly recommend stocking up on a ton in different sizes.
Plan for them to be in bed a lot. Books and movies will be a must while they recover. If your child is having a tonsillectomy you can read about how I prepared for that here, or an inguinal hernia repair you can read about that here.
Hospital Stays After Surgery
Everything I recommended for day surgery needs to be considered for surgeries that require hospital stays. They probably won’t leave the hospital feeling 100% and will still need to recover at home.
You’ll want to pick up a few items to keep your child comfortable while being at the hospital
- Comfy Blankets
- Device to watch movies on
- Good Headphones
- Things they can play with in their bed
Hospital Stays With Infants
When my son was an infant the stay was a bit easier as we just did our usual routine. We snuggled, I read him books, we sang songs, and I would walk him around the hospital in a stroller. I can’t remember if the hospital had one or if my husband brought ours over.
Hospital Stays With Toddlers
I consider his second surgery at 10 months to be similar to a toddler as he was fully running by then. This stage was the hardest as they want to move around and they can’t. They sleep less and are more vocal with their complaints. We watched a ton of movies, played with blocks and his cars, read books, and went for a ton of walks.
Hospital Stays With Kids
I’m not going to lie, this was my favourite stay. My son loved the fact he had unlimited tv and video game time. He had a hand-held device that we brought (either the switch or DS, can’t remember). The hospital also provided unlimited popsicles and we went on small walks (he was unable to go for long walks) and even met a few new friends. He was able to voice his complaints to me at this stage, so it wasn’t a guessing game, so that was a huge difference between the two prior surgeries.
Hospital Stays With Teens
I haven’t had to do a hospital stay with a teen yet, but I imagine this would be the best as you can leave them for periods of time and they would be able to come up with their own activities to stave off the boredom.
How To Prepare Yourself For Your Kids Surgery
This is the step every single parent forgets. You’re so focused on your child and their recovery, that you forget you’re also going through this surgery. The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is so significant when it comes to children having surgery. You’re about to go through a rollercoaster of emotions while trying to put on a brave face for your child. You need to ask for help so you can continue being the strong bad a$$ your child needs.
Things to consider before your child goes for surgery:
- Will you be able to drive or do you need to ask for someone to drive you?
- Is there someone who can be with you at the hospital while you wait for your child to get out of surgery?
- What are you going to do while your child is having surgery? Is there a restaurant you can go to? Is a park close by that you could take a walk in? Surgery times feel like an eternity. You do NOT want to be sitting in the waiting room with your thoughts. You’ll go nuts. You don’t have to be there, they have your phone number and will call you if there’s an issue or when your child’s surgery is over. Once the surgery is finished, there’s still a long period of time they’re in recovery before you can see them. Do not expect to see your child for at least 30 minutes.
Things to consider if your child is staying at the hospital:
- Will you be staying with them? If so, pack comfy clothes, PJs, toiletries, snacks, water, pillows/blankets, money for meals, and activities for you to do to stave off the boredom.
- Do you have someone to come relieve you from time to time? You will need breaks. My husband worked nights when our son had his surgery at 6. He would stop off at the hospital to relieve me for an hour before his shift and an hour after. He would bring me food and I would sit outside and enjoy my meal, cry, or sometimes both. My son was on a VERY strict soft food diet so I refused to eat in front of him as it felt like it would be teasing him while he ate broth.
- Can someone bring you coffee in the morning? You’re not really supposed to leave kids solo and if you need a coffee in the morning to wake up, you’ll need to either have someone bring you one or bribe a nurse to watch your child. If you do that, bring them back a coffee or donut as a thank you. Nurses are amazing humans and deserve all the treats and recognition.
What you need for yourself while your child recovers at home:
- Find a crying space. I’m not a crier, but the emotions had to release from time to time. I cry in the shower when I do cry, so I always made the bathroom inviting for my potential breakdowns. Pretty candles, bath bombs if I wanted to change it up to a bath after, etc.
- Pre-made food. You need to eat and you may not have time. I did freezer meals when my kids had surgery but I’m an over-planner. Buying frozen lasagna, KD, and microwave dinners will do the trick too. Just make sure you EAT!
- Do you have someone you can rely on to run to the drug store and grab their meds or bring you a coffee, or even just stop by so you can talk?
If you’re wanting to do up a care package for the parents of a child about to have surgery, I strongly suggest you click here for my best ideas.
Having a child undergo surgery is beyond stressful. There are so many things you need to plan for. I hope this article helped you and Good luck, I hope everything goes smoothly.
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