A high number of young children require significant medical treatment, due to ill health or – more likely – injury from an accident. In situations where surgery is needed, your little one not only has to deal with the discomfort and pain of the injury or ill health, but also the fear of surgery itself. There is a lot you can do to help him get ready psychologically.
To start with, look at it from your child’s point of view. He feels miserable, she is in pain, and the last thing he wants is to have someone poking, prodding and examining him.
Then there is the hospital. All he sees is a strange place, with unusual sounds, where people are dressed in gowns and wear frightening face masks most of the time. And this is before those intrusive pre-surgery examinations, jabs and enemas. It would be surprising if he is not shaken.
IT WILL BE OKAY
So give him loads of reassurance. Point out that the doctors are kind and caring and that the treatment will make him feel better. Explain that you know the doctors are good people who have made lots of children better.
Tell him that he has nothing to worry about, that he will be asleep during the operation, and that he won’t feel anything.
Your child trusts you and responds to your positive attitude. The more you understand surgery, hospitals and treatment from his perspective, the more reassurance you can give him.
It is also important to remind him regularly that Mummy, Daddy or the grandparents will be with him in hospital before and after the surgery. That greatly eases his fear. (If your child is in NUH, you may be able to use the family room there to rest.)
He wants you with him at all times. Tell him you will be there, and repeat this as often as necessary. Do not get annoyed with his repeated questions – they just reflect his insecurity.
STATE THE FACTS SIMPLY
It is usually best to give your child an idea of what will happen to him in hospital. For instance, that there will be nurses, doctors and some of the people have masks on. Point out that he will have good meals there, but add that you will offer him some of his favourites to eat if he wants.
Then talk a little about the surgery itself but certainly, do not go into details. He is only a kid, after all. Simply say that the doctors will gently make him go to sleep and that while he is asleep, they will make him better. Emphasise again that he will feel nothing.
If he asks what they do while he is asleep, simply tell him “they’ll make you better”. Always give a simple answer to his questions.
And of course, tell him in plenty of time, though not too far ahead. If surgery is planned, leave your explanation until the day or two before. Do not wait until you arrive at the hospital door before announcing that he is to have surgery.
When surgery is sudden, because of accidental injury, you may not have as much time. Use whatever time you have, however, to explain the impending treatment.
PLAY IS USEFUL
Psychological research confirms that “hospital play” can be useful in easing fears of young children who are scheduled for surgery or other invasive medical treatments. For instance, playing with toy figures of doctors and nurses, or toy medical instruments, a day or so before entering hospital can reduce potential anxiety. It does not work with every child, but it may help yours to be better prepared for surgery.