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Preparing Your Toddler for Surgery

Try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible when talking to your child about surgery. Your energy and emotions can affect your child.

What are some things that might be hard for a toddler?


  • Being away from their parent or caregiver
  • Being in a new or unfamiliar place
  • Meeting new people
  • Seeing or having medical equipment used on them

When should I talk to my toddler about their surgery?


  • Talk to your child the day before their surgery about what they should expect.

What should I tell my toddler about the surgery?


  • Give them simple explanations about:
    • Why they are having surgery.
      • For example, “You are going to have surgery to help your ____ feel better."
    • Breathing in medicine (“sleepy air”) that will help them take a nap during their surgery.
    • Waking up when their surgery is done.
    • Staying at the hospital (if that is the plan).


What are some other ways I can help my toddler be ready to come to the hospital for surgery?


  • Use toy medical items to show your child medical equipment they may see.
    • They will see blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, and stethoscopes.
    • Let them hold and use the equipment to help them learn more about each item and what it is for.
    • You can make a pretend anesthesia mask and talk about how sometimes kids get “sleepy air” for surgery.
    • Many toddlers like to play “pretend” on a stuffed animal or doll.
  • Help your toddler pick a comfort item to bring the hospital.
    • This may be a stuffed animal, blanket, or small toy.
    • You can talk to them about how they can keep this item with them the whole time they are at the hospital.


Be honest with your child about what they may feel before and after surgery.


  • Pain is different for every child.
    • Toddlers may not understand what pain means.
    • Something that “hurts” for one child, may not “hurt” for another child.
  • Do not make promises about how your child will feel.
    • Don’t use words like “Nothing will hurt.” or “No owies, I promise.”
  • Tell your child that you and everyone at the hospital wants to help them be as comfortable as possible.
  • Encourage your child to tell you, the doctors, and nurses how they are feeling. This helps us all take care of them before, during, and after their surgery.