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Preparing Your Infant or Toddler for Surgery

Child Life and Therapeutic Arts Programs

Before Surgery – Infants (Younger than 1 year of age)

Talk to the healthcare team to make sure you understand your baby’s condition and how to best support your baby before surgery. You’ll be more relaxed and better able to offer comfort and reassurance. 

What things may cause my infant to feel distressed before surgery?

  • Being away from you or a primary caregiver
  • Disruption of familiar routines

How can I help calm and comfort my infant before surgery?

  • Bring familiar and soothing items for your baby. Examples include pacifiers, soft blankets, sound machines and your child’s favorite stuffed animals. These items can help to normalize the environment and console your infant if you need to leave the room for a while.
  • Stay calm. Your infant can sense when you or other caregivers are stressed or anxious and can internalize these feelings. When you’re relaxed, your child will feel more comfortable, too.   
  • Take care of yourself. It’s important to tend to your own needs as well as your infant’s. Take time to eat and sleep, and bring along some of your favorite things that help you relax. Reach out to your support system when you need someone to talk to.

Before Surgery – Toddler (1 to 2 years old)

Talk to the healthcare team to make sure you understand your toddler’s condition and how to offer support before surgery. You’ll be more relaxed and better able to offer comfort and reassurance.

What things might cause toddlers distress before surgery?

  • Being away from you and other caregivers
  • Believing that surgery is a punishment for something he or she did or said
  • Feeling fearful of medical equipment
  • Feeling uneasy about unfamiliar faces and surroundings

What can I do to comfort my toddler before surgery?

  • Offer choices when appropriate. Young patients don’t always have a lot of choices while at the hospital. Giving your toddler choices, when possible, can provide a sense of control. Examples of toddler-friendly options include letting your child choose:
    • What comfort items to bring to the hospital
    • What toy to play with
    • What movie to watch after surgery
    • What favorite food or drink to have after surgery. (Be sure to check with the doctor first about diet restrictions.)
  • Create a “See You Later!” routine. Even though toddlers are young, they are still aware of what is happening around them. Your toddler needs reassurance that you’ll be there after surgery. A special routine can help provide comfort by reminding your child that you will come back.
  • Don’t offer too many details too soon. Most toddlers don’t fully understand the concept of time. It’s best to wait until a day or two before surgery to provide a short and honest explanation. For example, you could say: “Your [name of body part to be treated] has an owie. The doctors are going to help make your owie better. We’ll stay at the hospital until the doctors are done helping your [name of body part]. I’ll be with you while you’re at the hospital. Would you like to bring a favorite toy with you when we go to the hospital?”
  • PLAY! This is the language of children and one of the best ways to learn about their fears or misunderstandings about treatments or plans. Doctor kits are a great way to help make medical care feel more familiar and normal. For example, children can role play being a doctor or nurse. This can give them a chance to see and use medical equipment they’ll see at the hospital, such as a stethoscope and bandages.

Contact Us

If you would like additional guidance on how to better prepare your child for surgery or schedule a POP tour, please call 602-933-1540 or email pchpoptours@phoenixchildrens.com.  

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