When a child needs surgery, it can be scary for parents and children alike. Informing yourself of the steps involved in surgery can go a long way toward easing everyone’s anxiety.

If your child requires anesthesia for surgery, his or her health will determine the type of medication used. Parents should meet with the pediatrician and anesthesiologist before surgery to discuss any allergies, breathing problems, recent illnesses, heart problems, bleeding problems, loose teeth, prior surgery using anesthesia and whether anyone in the household smokes, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Parents also should ask the surgeon to explain the procedure in detail, including the length of the operation, how anesthesia is administered and when the parent can remain with the child before, during and after, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

The following tips can help parents prepare children in advance of surgery:

  • Begin talking about the hospital visit five or six days in advance for older children and two or three days ahead for toddlers, according to the AAP. Use descriptions children will understand, such as “sore” for pain and “taking a nap” for being put under anesthesia.

  • If a child is under age 12, discuss anesthesia risks with the doctor without the child in the room. Find out ahead of time whether you may be present when your child receives anesthesia or in the operating room, according to the AAP.

  • Gather family and friends to support the child before and after the surgery. The ASA suggests offering a treat or special event for the child to look forward to after surgery.

On the day of and following surgery:

  • Follow doctors’ orders for eating and drinking prior to surgery. Keeping the child’s stomach empty before anesthesia helps prevent vomiting, the AAP advises.

  • Bring a comfort object, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, for your child. Be calm and reassuring, and let your child know you will see him or her after surgery.

  • Know what to expect when your child comes out of anesthesia. Some are alert and calm, while others are groggy or feel nauseous afterward.

  • Watch for any complications for weeks after the surgery, according to the ASA. Call the doctor if problems are suspected.

©2010 American Academy of Pediatrics. This information may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.