Preparing for Your Child’s Surgery

You know your child best and are therefore an integral member of the healthcare team. There will be many experts involved in your child’s care whose goal is to make this a safe, positive, and family-centered experience. The team consists of your child’s surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, preoperative and postoperative nurses, and child life specialist.


  • Learn as much as you can about why the surgery is necessary and how it will benefit your child.
  • Address your worries and concerns. It is helpful to write down any questions you may have to ask the doctor before discussing surgery with your child.
  • Once you are comfortable with the information and know what to expect, talk about it with your child.
  • Try to maintain a calm presence as infants and children pick up on parents’ cues.


In a reassuring voice, use simple, honest, and accurate words to provide clear explanations. Use language that is appropriate for your child’s developmental level.

Infants (0 to 18 months)

Infants may fear strangers, separation from caregivers, strange sights, sounds, and smells.

  • Bring familiar comfort objects like a favorite toy, blanket or pacifier.

Toddlers (18 months to 3 years)

Toddlers may worry about loud noises, large objects, masks and changes in environment.

  • Prepare your toddler 1-2 days ahead of his/her surgical date.
  • Use a doll or stuffed animal to role-play or read a story about going to the hospital.
  • Your child may bring a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or toy on the day of surgery.

Preschoolers (3 years to 5 years)

Preschoolers may be frightened by loud noises, unfamiliar places, strangers, separation from caregivers, and bodily harm.

  • Prepare your child 2-3 days ahead of the surgical date.
  • Use simple explanations making sure that he/she knows that surgery is not a punishment for anything that was thought or said or done.
  • Reassure your child that you will stay with him/her as much as possible.
  • Your child may choose a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or toy to bring on surgery day.
  • “Preparing Your Child for Surgery at Emerson Hospital” is a helpful video to watch for children ages 4-10.

School age (6 years to 12 years)

School-age children may worry about pain, separation from parents, absence from school or peers, body image, anesthesia, or death.

  • Prepare your child 1-2 weeks ahead of his/her surgical date.
  • Ask about your child’s fears and answer questions honestly.
  • Reassure your child that the healthcare team are experts in keeping children safe.
  • Your child may choose a favorite comfort or distraction item.
  • Listen to our podcast “Preparing Your Child for Surgery at Emerson Hospital”.

Teens (13 years to 19 years)

Teens may be concerned about privacy, loss of independence, isolation from friends, body image, sexuality, anesthesia, effects of medications, or loss of ability to participate in favorite activities.

  • Teens need ample time to prepare for surgery.
  • Provide details about what to expect.
  • Include your teen in all discussions and decisions about their care.
  • Encourage your teen to write down any questions and assure them that their privacy will be respected.
  • Invite them to bring any items for distraction and/or comfort.

  ➤ Read: 7 Tips to Ease Stress for Teens Having Surgery

Child life specialists from Emerson’s Pediatric Intervention Team will provide support to you and your child on the day of surgery. If you would like to schedule an appointment for pre-operative teaching and/or a tour before your child’s surgery date, please call: 978-287-3423.