NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

Center for Community Health

Preparing Your Toddler for Surgery

Toddlers can understand simple details about surgery. We suggest that you talk to your toddler one to two days before the surgery. Keep in mind that most toddlers have short attention spans. Giving them information slowly will help them to process the information and there is less chance of overwhelming them. You know your child best; please use this information as a basic guideline.

How can I help prepare my toddler?

  • Use simple words to explain the surgery. As a general guide, explain only what your child will actually experience, remember they will be sleeping comfortably with anesthesia for most of the surgical experience. Let them know the doctors and nurses will first take their temperature, listen to their heart, put a sticker with a red light on their finger, and then they will talk to mom/dad/caregiver. Then when it is time, we will go to a special room to get medicine that will help you sleep during the surgery. When the surgery is over, you will wake up and mom/dad/caregiver will be with you.
  • Be honest but use gentle language with your child. Avoid words like, “cut”, “needle”, “gas”, “put to sleep” as they may cause stress or anxiety for your child. Instead, use words like “sleeping medicine” or “poke”.
  • Reassure your child that you will be there with him/her/them while you are at the hospital.
  • Use play items to teach your child about surgery. Toddlers like to touch and explore things. Toy medical kits can help your child become familiar with medical equipment.
  • Read simple children’s books about going to the hospital.
  • Allow your child to choose comfort items or toys to bring from home (ex. stuffed animals or a blanket). These will help your child to feel safe and secure.

What can I do to help my toddler cope at the hospital?

  • Children at this age will want to stay close to their caregivers. Don’t be surprised if your child wants to sit on your lap or is holding onto you a little tighter than usual. You are their sense of security and safety.
  • Stay calm and patient. It is normal for toddlers to be fussy before or after a procedure.
  • Bring your child’s favorite sippy cup from home; it may be comforting to your child during their recovery.
  • You are the best medicine! Your touch and voice will comfort your child more than anything will.