What to tell your child about an operation depends on your child’s age, ability to understand and emotional maturity. Your pediatric cardiologist, cardiac surgeon and other specially trained medical and nursing staff at the hospital can help you decide how to explain the surgery to your child. It’s important to present simple, truthful information and answer any questions your child asks. If you don’t know the answer to a question, contact one of the specialists on your child’s team to help get the information.
Explain to your child should understand that there will be times when you will be separated during and after the operation. Reassure your child that you’ll never be far away and that you’ll return as soon as the doctors let you. Stress that this is a normal part of having surgery and not a form of punishment.
No matter how well you prepare your child for an operation, your child may sometimes be angry or depressed. At those times it may help to say that it’s perfectly normal to have these feelings, but try to remind your child why the surgery is important and needs to be done.
You can help your child by explaining why the surgery needs to be done in simple, clear words. Here are some approaches that parents have used to talk about surgery with their child:
“Your heart isn’t working as it should, but it can be fixed. The doctors and nurses are going to help your heart work better. I love you and I want this heart surgery done because it’s the only way for you to feel better.”
“During your operation the doctors will give you medicines so that you will be asleep and will not feel anything. After the surgery is over, you might feel sore, but your nurses will give you medicine to make your pain go away.”
“Right after the operation you’ll stay in a special room and get extra attention from the nurses and doctors. I’ll be able to stay with you very often and I’ll always be nearby. After you’ve gotten stronger, you’ll move to a regular hospital room. When you’re there, I will be able to stay with you almost all the time.”
“While you’re staying in the hospital, you’ll meet other children who are also getting well after their heart surgery. They’ll be getting ready to go home. You’ll be able to go home, too, as soon as the doctors say you’re ready.”