Carolinas HealthCare System

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Children of all ages need reassurance from their parents. When your child is facing an operation, surgical procedure or a hospital stay, your support and knowledge will be reassuring, especially in the days leading up to the visit.

Pediatric patients who face a chronic disease that will be with them for years, or a lifetime, will need to be very involved in every facet of their treatment. Understanding, and ultimately taking ownership of the treatment, is key to your child's success at managing chronic illness.

Children who are looking at a shorter term medical situation may not need to understand every detail, but they still need reassurance.

Learn what you can do to prepare your child for surgery at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, NC.

Pre-Surgery Visit

Relieve everyone's anxieties with a pre-surgery visit if time allows. Children will have the opportunity to learn what to expect when they arrive for their surgery. You and your family will have a chance to explore and get to know the hospital. Even just knowing where you can get food or a short rest can be reassuring. Call 704-381-3257 to schedule a tour.

How to Prepare for Surgery with a Toddler

Because toddlers have little to no concept of time, it's better to tell them about the surgery only one or two days in advance. Let them participate by allowing them to choose a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or toy to bring along. Toddlers can be fussy or experience behavior changes before and after procedures, so an extra dose of patience on your part will help.

Because children are uncomfortable being separated from parents and family, stay with your child as much as possible -- especially overnight. If your child is having surgery, reassure him or her that you will be there when he or she wakes up.

Parent Tip: Avoid talking to your child about surgery before bedtime! It's best to tell your child about a surgery when you have extra time to talk about it. Children need time to process information like this at their own pace and they need you to be there to answer their questions. If you have concerns or questions on talking with your child about surgery, please call our child life specialists at 704-381-3257.


Preschoolers are curious and will want to know what to expect, so we recommend telling them three to five days before their visit. With budding imaginations, preschoolers can best handle simple words and minimal details.

Be honest. Children this age may think they did something wrong to cause the surgery, and they may become angry with their parents. It is important to reassure them the surgery is not their fault. Encourage them to express their feelings. Explore feelings together by reading books about hospitals and using play medical kits.

For some children, encouraging them to draw pictures will give them an outlet for their feelings and give you much needed insight into what they are thinking.

School-Age Children

Start preparing elementary-age children about a week ahead, because children of this age will want details about the entire process -- before, during and after surgery.

Children normally become either angry or very quiet in the hospital, so it is important to be honest and supportive. Many worry they will wake up during surgery; a simple explanation that there is a special doctor and nurse who make sure they stay asleep will take care of this fear. Ultimately, the goal is to treat your child as normally as possible and try to give them as many choices as you can. This will give them some sense of control which will be reassuring.


Inclusion is everything to a teen so involve them in all discussions and decisions. Discuss any fears completely and honestly. Although adolescents strive to be independent, the surgery may make them feel more dependent so give your teen some feelings of control during the stay.

Talking to older children about how they feel can be difficult -- especially when you're worried, too. Here are some conversation starters that can get things moving:

  • Explain the need for the surgery.
  • Encourage them to make a list of questions they can ask the hospital staff.
  • Talk about choices and options regarding their care.
  • Ask if he or she has any worries about the surgery or going to the hospital.
  • Ask your teen how you can help them during this time.