If your child is due to have surgery, it is only natural to be anxious and worried for their safety. As an adult, you have the life skills and experience to cope, but what about your child?

Paediatric surgery can be a hugely worrying time for young children – partly because of the fear that comes from not knowing what is going to happen. But you can make all the difference.

You can take a few steps to ensure that your child is fully prepared for surgery. By doing some research of your own, and taking the time to explain every step of the process, you can ease your child’s anxiety and make surgery a little less intimidating.

Maintain a calm and persona

Young children will often model the behaviour of those around them. If you are tense and fraught with nerves with regard to their surgery, your child is likely to feel the same way.

Your child may pick up on any fear and anxiety you’re demonstrating, so try to act calmly. Stoicism might be the last thing on your mind at such a worrying time, but it will have a more positive influence on your child’s perception of the upcoming surgery if you exude calmness when talking to them

Do your research

The fear of the unknown is what often causes the most stress and anxiety before an operation – both for the child and the parents. Speak at length with your child’s physicians, and ask as many questions as you like. Once you know the facts, you can prepare yourself for what lies ahead. You will also be able to give your child some basic facts about their condition.

The staff at The Portland Hospital are always there to explain every aspect of a diagnosis and treatment programme. Whether you need reassurance, a tour of the facilities or your questions answered, experienced, compassionate and highly qualified consultants and nurses are always available to help you through what is often a very distressing time.

Explain the situation with your child

Now that you are calm and in possession of all the facts, you can sit down with your child and prepare them for what lies ahead. If your child is a very young toddler with limited language skills, you may need to keep things vague. This might involve a talk about what a hospital is, what doctors do and how long a stay in hospital might last.

If your child is over three years old, he or she will probably be able to understand a very brief and basic explanation of what is about to happen. Be calm and honest at all times, and try to spot signs of anxiety and distress early. You may need to take a break if things get a little stressful for you both.

Tell your child that the operation will help them to get better. If you need to, you can describe the experience of being in hospital by playing. Use dolls and toys to recreate the experience of a hospital stay, and always try to be positive. Children who look upon their time in hospital as an adventure are more likely to be calm about what lies ahead.

It is very important that you give your child the opportunity to ask questions. However, it is equally important that you only answer questions you know the answers to. Most children will be worried about the pain, and they will seek reassurances from their parents on the issue. It is important not to lie to children about this. Fear of pain is often worse than the pain itself, so prepare your child in the best way you know how.

Visit the hospital in advance

If you can take your child to the hospital once or twice before surgery, stress, fear and anxiety will be less likely on the day. Take any opportunity you have to meet with the doctors and nurses that will be charged with your child’s care – this will help both you and your child to stay in control of your anxiety. A children’s hospital will be used to dealing with frightened and anxious children on a daily basis, so don’t be afraid to ask for the help of doctors and nurses.

The Portland Hospital has an experienced team of qualified Play Specialists who are on hand to help your child prepare for their upcoming surgery; using play to help them to make sense of frightening and unfamiliar experiences, as well as helping them to cope with pain.

Talk about the future

When surgery looms large in the near future, it’s not easy to think about anything beyond the operation that lies ahead. You and your child should discuss the reasons why surgery is necessary, and the increased quality of life that might result. Be positive, and make plans for the days and weeks after surgery. This could take some of your child’s focus away from the seriousness of the imminent situation.

The prospect of surgery strikes fear into most people, and children are no different. However, the fear of the unknown is often worse than the event itself. By communicating with your child and simply being there when you’re needed, you can make the process a great deal easier – for everyone concerned.

Disclaimer: This post is brought to you by The Portland Hospital – the only private hospital in the UK dedicated exclusively to the care of women and children. For more information, please visit – www.theportlandhospital.com