Mother talking to daughter about pediatric surgery

How to Talk to Your Child About Surgery

Knowing that your child must undergo surgery is stressful for the entire family. And because your child looks to you to make them feel less fearful about the experience, you must, as a parent, do all you can to prepare for what could be a tough conversation. 

Prepare Yourself Before You Talk to Your Child About Surgery

The unknown is much more frightening than facing the facts about an unpleasant topic. Before you tell your child about the surgery, ask your surgical team questions about your child’s condition and what the surgery will involve before, during, and after the procedure. Arming yourself with knowledge will make it much easier to talk to your child and make them feel like you’re not hiding anything.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor and Surgical Team

While our surgical staff will do their best to prepare and inform you prior to the surgery, it’s always good to have a few questions ready if needed. We recommend asking:

  • Who is the attending physician and who will be in charge of the operation?
  • How long will the procedure take?
  • Where will I be during the operation and when will I be able to see my child?
  • How will pain be managed during the operation?
  • What should I know about anesthesia?
  • How long will my child be in the hospital?
  • Are there detailed instructions for how to care for my child after the operation?
  • How will pain be managed post-op?
  • Will my child need rehabilitation or therapy?
  • How long will it be before my child can return to normal activities?

Knowing the answers to important questions can help relieve your own anxiety, and it’s crucial that your child see that you are calm when you talk to them about the surgery. Most children can pick up on their parents’ emotional states, and if you can project confidence and reassurance, it will put your child at ease.

Talking to Children About Surgery

Your child’s ability to understand his upcoming surgery will depend on his age. Toddlers and pre-school children should be not addressed in the same way as elementary school-aged children or teenagers. 

Infants Up to 12 Months

Your infant will not understand any language-based explanation about the surgery, but they may become stressed by a change in routine and if they sense their parents are anxious. Stay calm and cheerful while you show them picture books about hospitals, and then have them meet their doctors so they won’t be unfamiliar to them. Try to stay calm and your infant will likely pick up on those positive cues. 

Toddlers 1-3 Years

When you explain the surgery, tell your toddler that the doctor will make “x” better. You don’t need to go into detail or use words that will cause confusion. 

Preschool 3-5 Years

Begin talking about the surgery a number of days before the date. A child this age can handle more information about the procedure and why it’s happening, but reassure them that the doctors are there to help them feel comfortable and any pain will be minimal and won’t last for long. 

It’s important to let your preschooler know that they haven’t done anything wrong and that their surgery isn’t punishment. Reiterate how the surgery will make them feel so much better in the long run!

School-Age 6-12 Years

Start talking to your school-age child a few weeks before the surgery. You can explain in more detail why the surgery is necessary and emphasize the benefits of having the procedure. 

Maintain an open dialogue with your child so that they feel it’s okay to ask you questions and that they know they’ll get honest answers. Because they may feel out of control, let them make choices when it’s appropriate. Encourage creative expression to help them deal with the stress and anxiety they may be feeling.


Your teen wants their parents to be truthful. Make sure you speak honestly and answer questions directly. Respect their need for privacy and try to understand their concerns about how the surgery will affect their appearance, image, and social life. 

Let your teen take some control about planning the conditions surrounding their surgery. but be wary of letting them do his own internet research! Instead, ask them to come up with a list of questions to ask the surgical team.

Find a Pediatric Surgery Center That Will Ease Your Worries

At Austin Pediatric Surgery, we’ve been caring for infants, children, and adolescents for more than 20 years. We’re home to the best pediatric surgeons in the Austin area and use the most advanced surgical technologies and minimally invasive techniques. 

Learn more about the conditions we treat and how we can make your experience more comfortable, and if you have questions, please feel free to contact us any time.