There may come a time when your child needs surgery. The idea of an operation can be daunting to your child or even to you as a parent. As you prepare for surgery, there are many tools to ease your […]
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Helping Your Child Overcome the Fear of Surgery

by Jill Taylor on November 8, 2013

in Community Information

surgeryThere may come a time when your child needs surgery. The idea of an operation can be daunting to your child or even to you as a parent.

As you prepare for surgery, there are many tools to ease your fears and help you feel more comfortable.

One of the major ways you can feel more at ease, is utilizing people who are here to help. Courtney Bowles is a certified Child Life Specialist at McLane Children’s Scott & White and helps children and families prepare for surgery in a positive way.

Why is Surgery Scary for Children?

“Surgery can be scary for many children due to the unknown,” says Bowles.

Every child will handle the experience differently. That is why the Child Life Program will work on an individual basis to ensure you are not afraid. Maybe your child has a fear of needles, or had a bad experience with a doctor, whatever the feelings are they can be addressed in an open and safe environment.

Bowles says fears can range for children of all ages:

  • For the younger children, they are typically fearful of the possibility of separation from parents and the possibility of pain.
  • School-age kids tend to fear needles, surgical tools like knives and damage to their bodies. “It’s important to give a child this age clear, rational information as well as assurance that the surgery is to fix an existing problem not create a new one,” says Bowles.
  •  In working with teens, they typically have more in-depth fears. Some of their fears include pain associated with the surgery, afraid of losing control, missing out on special events with friends or school, a change in appearance and being embarrassed. “Often our teens feel “childish” if they express fears or concerns, so I like to encourage them to ask as many questions as they need to and express their fears or concerns,” says Bowles.
  •  Even adults often have fears themselves. No one is going to judge you for being fearful of something or having nerves before surgery. It can be difficult to see your child go through surgery, and your emotions are vital to the positive outcome.

How Can Bud E. Bear Help?

Leah Woodward is also a certified Child Life Specialist and explains the Bud E. Bear program developed to help prepare your child for surgery:

“While the medical team takes care of the medical needs, our role is to take care of their social, emotional and developmental needs,” says Woodward.

Click here for the Bud E. Bear schedule and more information.

How Can I Help My Child Not Be Scared?

In addition to the Bud E. Bear program, there are a number of things you can do to help ease your child’s fears of surgery.

  • Correct misconceptions.
  • Get all your questions answered.
  • Use simple, non-threatening words.
    • “I encourage families not to use threatening language like ‘open you up,’ ‘the doctor will cut you,’ or ‘sew you with a needle.’ Say that the doctor is going to help fix whatever is the matter, and explain that many children have this problem and get it fixed at the hospital,” says Bowles.
  • Be aware of your non-verbal cues: tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, body language.
    • “If a parent is anxious and nervous, a child will often pick up on those feelings and reflect those feelings and behaviors as well,” says Bowles.
  • Involve other family members and siblings in the planning.
  • Dissolve any feelings of guilt.
    • “Often times children will feel as if they were the ones who were bad or did something wrong, therefore leading to surgery as a form of discipline, so we want the child to truly understand why the surgery is needed,” says Bowles.
  • Find books, appropriate to your child’s understanding about what to expect at the hospital.
  • Pretend play with a child’s doctors kit.
    • “Young children can benefit from practicing on a doll or stuffed teddy by taking temperature pulse, and listen to its heartbeat and breathing,” says Bowles.

The more children are prepared for surgery, the better they will cope. For more ideas as you prepare for the big day, be sure to look ahead at our  article, Helping Your Child Prepare for Surgery.

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