Last month my four year old had surgery under general anaesthetic. It was a quick procedure to remove a suspicious mole for investigation. The surgery itself was over in 45 minutes or so and we only spent about 7 hours in hospital. All round it was actually a really positive experience! Despite Lu being quite an anxious child she handled it really well and I’m super pleased with the ‘prep’ we did to support her.
As you can imagine I was quite anxious in the lead up to the surgery and I spent a lot of time reading articles and forums to help us prepare. My main concern was that she would be frightened and the medical staff would expect us to force her to comply by restraining her or similar. This is something I was not prepared to do as it really goes against my parenting style, despite the fact that I know it would have been meant for the greater good.
If you’re looking for ideas of how to kindly and gently prepare your four or five year old for a similar procedure I hope these tips help.
- I bought Lu some books about hospitals and slowly introduced them into our play in the two weeks prior to her operation. I wanted to get her more familiar with medical stories in a really gentle way before I actually told her about the procedure.
- We asked nursery to encourage role play involving doctors and to incorporate similar books into their day where possible.
- We decided to wait until four days before the surgery to let her know that she’d be going into hospital. The NHS advice for this age group is to tell them between seven and three days in advance to give them time to engage in role play and process the information. As Lu is quite anxious we felt four days was a good option.
- Once we’d told her that she’d be going to hospital we let her know she could ask questions or talk about it any time. We kept it simple and she gradually asked for more information as she processed it all.
- Luisa and I shopped for new pyjamas to wear in hospital together. She needed short sleeved, button front pyjamas to accommodate her dressings and I thought that helping to pick them would be a fun experience and give her more control.
- We bought Luisa some small toys and brought them to hospital in her backpack. This really helped pass the time as it’s a long wait to be called to theatre – especially when you’re a hungry four year old!
- I was really fortunate that a friend helped us make a ‘social story’ for Luisa. I’ll pop a photo of it below but in short it’s a simplified story about your child and what they’re going to experience. It includes symbols and often photographs of places and people they already know as well as new places or people they will encounter on the day. This was an enormous help for our family. We initially used it to tell Lu about her hospital trip and left a copy in the corner of the living room available for her to look at any time. We made a point to revisit the story once a day and brought it to the hospital with us. She seemed to really enjoy it and take comfort from the repetition. This was definitely the most helpful tool we had.
So there you have it, I really hope that these tips were helpful. I’ll write another post soon about what to expect from a general anaesthetic and some more practical medical tips about managing the day and the recovery period. If you have any questions about those aspects please do let me know.