Preparing for Surgery

Getting Ready for Surgery at Inova Children's Hospital

The prospect of surgery, anesthesia and hospitalization can be stressful and overwhelming for any child and family. At Inova Children's Hospital, our pediatric staff is specially trained to support both the medical and emotional needs of your child. Our Child Life specialists are especially helpful in easing the anxiety and questions that may accompany your child's hospital stay or outpatient procedure.

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We also recognize that no one knows your child better than you do. We believe that as parents and caregivers, you play the most significant role in your child’s ability to cope through the experience.

The information below is about surgical services at Inova Children's Hospital on the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus. Pediatric surgery is also available at Inova Alexandria Hospital and Inova Loudoun Hospital. Services vary by location.

Preparing Your Child for Surgery

"Having Surgery at Inova Children's Hospital" video

"Anesthesia Demo" video

"Preparing Your Child for Surgery" brochure

Additional helpful information for preparing for your child's surgery at Inova Children's Hospital is contained in our brochure, Preparing Your Child for Surgery (available in English and Spanish).

Help Your Child Cope with an Upcoming Surgery

Know About the Process

Children can sense when their parents are worried or frightened. The more you know about the surgical and recovery process, the better you will feel it. Ask the surgeon questions. Read "Preparing Your Child for Surgery." (Read in English PDF icon / Read in Spanish PDF icon)

Schedule a Pre-surgical Tour

The certified Child Life specialist (CCLS) can provide an individualized tour to help you and your child learn about the surgical process. During the tour, you and your child will have the opportunity to visit the surgery center, meet staff members and ask questions about the procedure. The CCLS will also provide hands-on, age-appropriate preparation for your child so they know what to expect on the day of surgery. To schedule a pre-surgical tour, please call the Child Life specialist at 703-776-3906.

Be Honest

You may feel hesitant to talk to your child about surgery or discomfort because you don't want to frighten him or her. It's important to be honest and open with your child. When children do not understand why they are at the hospital, they might assume the worst and hold secret fears about what might happen. In simple terms that he can understand, tell your child why he is going to have surgery. If you know that something on his body will hurt or feel uncomfortable, say so. Make sure to explain that the nurses and doctors are there to help make him as comfortable as possible.

Watch Your Words

You can help your child by preparing them for their upcoming procedure in simple terms that they can understand. Talk about the doctor "helping" or "fixing" a certain part of your child's body. It is okay to use the word "opening" but better to avoid the word "cut." For instance, explain, "The doctor is going to fix the bump on your tummy" rather than "The doctor is going to make a cut on your tummy." Avoid ambiguous phrases such as "the doctor is going to put you to sleep" as many children associate that with having a pet put to sleep and dying. Instead, explain that the anesthesiologist or "sleep medicine" doctor will give special medicine to make sure you are asleep the entire surgery and not feeling anything that the surgeon is doing. Emphasize that the doctor will stop giving the medicine when the surgery is all finished and it is time to wake up.

Encourage Discussion

Ask your child how they are feeling about their upcoming surgery; this open communication can help identify any fears, concerns or misconceptions about the procedure. Ask your child if they would like to visit the hospital ahead of time for a pre-surgical tour. If your child asks you a question and you don't know the answer, it is okay to say "I'm not sure, but I will find out."

Validate Your Child's Feelings

It is normal for children to feel frightened, angry, anxious or frustrated. Some children may cry. Tell your child that is it OK to have those feelings and it is OK to cry. Reassuring your child. No matter how old or young your child is- offer as much emotional and physical reassurance as possible. Emphasize that their hospital stay is temporary. Be sure to tell your child that it is not their fault and that surgery does not happen because of something they did wrong.

Offer Opportunities for Control

Let your child help you pack a bag for the hospital. Allow your child to choose a special item (stuffed animal, blanket, toy, book, hand-held game, phone, music player, "good luck item," etc.) to bring and keep with him throughout the day of surgery.

Read Books with Your Child About Going to the Hospital

A list of books can be found at the end of the booklet "Preparing Your Child for Surgery" (Read in English PDF icon / Read in Spanish PDF icon)

Your Pediatric Surgical Team

Our entire team is devoted to helping your child and family move through the surgical experience as easily and effectively as possible. Below are the individuals who will be providing care for your child during the hospital stay.

  • Clinical technician – will escort you and your child to the pre-operative waiting area and assist the nursing staff in caring for your child before and after surgery (i.e. recording vital signs, starting intravenous lines, transporting your child to the lobby after surgery)
  • Nurse – will meet you and your child in the pre-operative waiting area to review your child's medical record and get your child ready for surgery. A nurse will also be with you and your child after surgery in the pediatric recovery area.
  • Certified Child Life specialist (CCLS) – a trained professional who focuses on meeting the psychosocial needs of children undergoing medical experiences. A CCLS may be available to help prepare you and your child for anesthesia and the surgery by showing pictures of the OR environment, using teaching dolls and basic medical equipment (i.e. the anesthesia mask). The CCLS may also accompany your child back into the OR for additional support during the anesthesia induction.
  • Clinical Director – oversees the unit and staff to ensure that everything is running smoothly
  • Anesthesiologist – a physician who administers anesthesia medications, monitors your child's vital signs during the entire surgery and administers pain medications as needed. Provides safe and optimal conditions during surgery to make the entire experience as comfortable as possible.
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) – may work with the anesthesiologist to administer anesthesia medication and monitor your child's vital signs throughout the procedure.
  • Surgeon – the surgeon is the doctor who scheduled the surgery and will be conducting the procedure
  • Surgical resident – a doctor who is in the clinical training phase of education. Surgical residents sometimes assist the surgeon in procedures.
  • Operating room (OR) nurse – works with the surgeon to assist with the procedure. The nurse will introduce himself/herself before the surgery prior to escorting your child back to the operating room.
Contact Us

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s upcoming surgery, our staff members are here to help.