Pediatric Surgical Services
Hasbro Children's Hospital

Emotionally Preparing Your Child for Surgery


Explain what will happen to your child in terms they can understand. Use words that describe what they will hear, smell, feel, taste, and see.

Toddlers and preschoolers cope best when they are told about the hospital visit 1 – 3 days before admission. They may not remember information given to them too far ahead of the event. Children of this age worry about being alone, not coming home again, and that they are being punished; “I did something bad, and that’s why I am in the hospital.” Reassure them that they are not being punished.

School-age children need to know at least a week in advance. This gives them ample time to think about the information and ask questions. School-age children often fear having anesthesia and need reassurance that they will not wake up during surgery.

Adolescents should be informed as soon as possible. This age group copes best when given the opportunity to plan for and make decisions about the hospital stay. They also need reassurance that they will have as much privacy as possible, such as having curtains pulled around their bed, and that they will be a part of decision-making. (Gillette Children’s Hospital, 1994)


Remind your child that they will be meeting many new people during their visit to the hospital. Explain that everyone they meet is there to help them feel better, and if your child is in pain, he/she should let someone know.


Encourage your child to ask questions of you and the health care team. If your child is having difficulty expressing feelings, ask questions like, “What kinds of things are you wondering about when we go to the hospital?” If you sense that your child is anxious about going to the hospital, you may want to begin the discussion with, “What do you think the hospital will be like?”

Young children often express their feelings through play. If you have a play medical kit at home encourage your child to use it. You can participate by being the patient and your child being the doctor or nurse.

Ask questions like, “What is this used for?” If your child displays a misunderstanding help make your child aware of what will actually happen.

Encourage your child to express what they are feeling and reassure them that all feelings they may have are okay. It is important to listen and empathize with your child.

Be Honest

Many families try to protect their children and give them information that isn’t necessarily correct. This can be confusing to a child and may cause them to mistrust hospital staff. Not knowing what is going to happen can be more frightening to a child.

Parents Are an Important Part of Our Team

The operating room staff appreciates the important role you play in the care of your child. We have developed a program in which you may be able to stay with your child until he or she falls asleep. You will have an opportunity to discuss this further with an anesthesiologist at the POP program.

You will receive a phone call between 1 and 3 p.m. the day before your child's surgery to confirm your child's surgery. Please call 401-444-6887 if you do not hear from us.