Hospitals can be scary places, even for most adults, so it is easy to understand why antiseptic smells, IV poles, and other medical equipment would frighten a toddler or school-aged child. Whether your child needs a simple medical procedure or more invasive surgery, you can take several steps to assuage your own fears and your child's.
It is important that parents understand what to expect throughout the process, starting with the procedure and why it needs to be done, according to Maria Spear, child life specialist at Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey.
Experts agree that parents need to have a thorough understanding of what will happen to their child before, during, and after surgery.
"A less anxious parent often means a less anxious child," says Joneen Corrao, child life director at Miami Children's Hospital. "Arranging presurgical orientation is beneficial for both children and parents because they are able to see, feel, and touch medical tools in a nonthreatening environment."
Arrange a Visit
Call or visit your hospital and ask to speak to a child life specialist. These professionals help children prepare for hospitalization and surgery through preoperative visits, role-play and other creative resources. During these visits, children are allowed to touch and play with medical equipment.
Ask questions: What will your child look like after surgery? Will there be swelling, bandages, bruises, or stitches? Take notes and write down your questions so that you do not forget anything.
Also, ask about special programs that are available, including preoperative visits or classes that show children what to expect from their visit to the hospital in a fun and nonthreatening atmosphere. Some hospitals use props such as teddy bears, dolls, or other toys complete with bandages, cold compresses, and crutches. You can also look into other options to help reduce your child's anxiety, like acupressure.
What to Do for Your Child
Ingrid Holm-Olsen, CCLS, CTRS, a senior child life specialist at New York University Medical Center, offers the following tips for preparing your child for a medical procedure:
After surgery, keep your child as comfortable as possible by giving lots of reassurance and support. You may be allowed to bring in food or other comforts from your home. Just be sure to check with hospital staff before bringing anything into the hospital. And check the hospital's visitation policy regarding how many visitors can see your child at one time.