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Prepare Your Child for an Outpatient Procedure

Children, like adults, get anxious about the unknown. When children learn they have an upcoming hospital procedure, they need -- and deserve -- developmentally appropriate information.

When it comes to outpatient medical procedures, it is important that parents are honest with children to relieve anxiety and build trust.

Your child most likely is worried about experiencing pain, what will happen during and after the procedure, and if they will have to take time off from school or sports for recovery.

Ease Your Child’s Fears

When talking to your child, choose your words carefully. This is not a time for metaphors. Parents should use clear and accurate descriptions of the procedure, including:

  • What will happen
  • Who will be in the room
  • A realistic expectation about the level of pain
  • The plan to address pain
  • Why the procedure is necessary

Of course, these descriptions should be age-appropriate for your child. Younger children do not need all the details. It’s best to explain the procedure in simple terms and also address their worries about the level of pain.

Older children can make more decisions on their own, so try to incorporate that in your explanation, if possible. Teens comprehend more complex information and may have more questions about the procedure and why it’s necessary. If you are unsure how much information to share with your child, offer the most basic explanation of the procedure, be prepared for your child to ask questions and see how the conversation unfolds.

Once you have explained the procedure, you should validate your child’s feelings by letting them know it’s OK to feel scared, worried, angry or sad. You can ask open-ended questions to gauge whether your child wants more information. Some examples include:

  • What would you like to know more about?
  • What are you most concerned about?
  • What makes this procedure so scary?
  • Is there anything that I could do to make it a little easier for you?

Visit Hospital Before Procedure Day

Some hospitals give children and families tours to familiarize them with the environment and have professionals on staff who specialize in explaining medical terms to children. Younger children may benefit from family members acting out the hospital stay with play, using pictures, dolls, and other toys to explain what to expect and answer any questions they might have.  

After your visit, your child can help you make a list of things to pack for the day of the procedure, such as a favorite toy or snacks for afterwards.

Parents Need To Prep, Too

Try to model staying calm because your child will look to you to gauge how worried they should be. Children can sense when their parents are angry or scared, and this can exacerbate the child’s negative emotions about the upcoming procedure. If you are having trouble regulating your emotions, take a step back and seek help.

On the practical side, parents should:

  • Have a plan to manage your child’s pain
  • Set realistic expectations with your child about recovery time
  • Discuss with your child’s teachers how schoolwork will be made up

Don’t forget that extra hugs can provide comfort and may make both of you feel less anxious as the procedure day approaches.

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