Child Life Specialist

4 Ways A Child Life Specialist Help Prepare Your Child For Surgery

When a child is being treated for cancer, the unknowns can be a big source of fear. What caused the cancer? What happens now? What does this mean for the future?

It might not be possible to remove all of these uncertainties, but there are some ways to address the fear with the help of people on your child’s medical team—like child life specialists.

For instance, getting ready for surgery is an area where we can work with children on removing that sense of not knowing what’s going to happen, and help to get rid of some of that fear.

Here are 4 ways that a child life specialist can help prepare your child for surgery.

Also read: What Is A Child Life Specialist?

1. Talking About Surgery In A Developmentally Appropriate Way

Talking to kids about their surgery in a way that is appropriate for where they are developmentally is important, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This is because sometimes simply being told what’s going to happen and why—using terms that they are able to understand—can start to clear up some of those unknowns.

Simplicity is important. Here at Children’s, Child Life Services offers a program called Operation Learn to help kids and their families get ready for surgery.

Part of that preparation involves making sure our patients know what to expect before they have the surgery. We do this by explaining the what and why, and also by showing them the how and where.

2. Using Therapeutic Play To Help Kids Understand What Will Happen During Surgery

Therapeutic play is used a lot in child life services because it gives kids an opportunity to be hands-on in learning about their surgery.

During Operation Learn at Children’s, a child life specialist goes over what will happen in the surgery using real medical equipment. We also encourage the children to participate in the demonstration, if they’d like.

Seeing the different tools and operating areas, and interacting with them can help kids have a better understanding, encouraging them to feel more involved in what’s going on, explains the AAP.

3. Addressing Questions And Fears Kids Might Have

Sometimes, one of the reasons kids are afraid of surgery is just because they have questions about it. A child life specialist who can answer those questions in a developmentally appropriate way can ease some of their fears pretty simply, says the AAP.

Child Life Specialist

Kids might also have different fears depending on their age. For instance, younger kids under the age of 5 or so might be afraid that they are going to the hospital as a punishment. Or they might be scared that they’re going to wake up during the surgery and be in pain.

Older kids up to the preteen years might be afraid of the pain as well, but also of the loss of control they might experience in surgery.

And preteens and teens—who are typically more aware of what having surgery means—might also be afraid of any changes in appearance that the surgery could cause, as well as any complications that might happen.

4. Getting Siblings And Parents Involved In Surgery Preparation

Having parents and siblings take part in the preparation can help. That’s why siblings are invited to participate in Operation Learn at Children’s.

During this program, they can:

  • Watch a video about having surgery
  • Go over the procedure with a Child Life Specialist using real medical equipment
  • Tour the operating area
  • Have their questions answered

For more information about Operation Learn, give us a call at 402-955-5309.

Christy Hogan
My background is in child development, and I use this knowledge to connect and build trust with patients and families. I’ve been a child life specialist for more than 20 years.

One thought on “4 Ways A Child Life Specialist Help Prepare Your Child For Surgery

  1. I think it is a great idea to encourage children to understand surgery before they have it done. I really like the idea of asking them to participate in a demonstration. My little sister needs her appendix removed, so maybe playing pretend surgery with her would be a good way to help her prepare.

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