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Prepare children for procedures in advance
Practice may not make perfect, but it helps
The best way to help children cope with the stress of a procedure or hospital stay is to let them practice in advance, says Emily Fazio, CCLS, a child life specialist in day surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Practice helps alleviate the fears children may have about an unfamiliar situation.
When children come to the hospital, they typically are worried about bodily injury or harm, discomfort or pain, and even death. They also are fearful of being separated from their parents, scared of strangers, and nervous about the possibility of any kind of surprises, says Fazio.
That’s why it is important to prepare them for a procedure or hospital stay. "Preparing kids for any little thing that will happen to them makes a world of difference," she says.
When preparing children for day surgery, Fazio watches for situations that might cause problems. For example, a child may be apprehensive about the anesthesia mask. If this should happen, she has them take a mask home with them so they can practice using it by putting it on their stuffed animals, baby doll, or their mom or dad. Also, she asks the parents to reinforce the teaching and go over the use of the anesthesia mask with the child at home.
If Fazio has practiced putting on the mask with the child by counting to 10, she repeats the process in the operating room. Such activities give the child some control over what is happening in an unfamiliar environment.
When children visit the day surgery area prior to an operation, Fazio suggests that parents go over what the child learned time and again before coming to the hospital so the child remembers what to expect.
"I usually give children a surgical hat and mask with a little doctor bag to take home so they can play doctor," she says. "It helps them get used to the hospital equipment and surgeons and makes them more familiar with their environment."
Helping parents understand that they need to tell their children about the hospital visit and go over what will happen with them is important. Parents often think that children will be less stressed if they don’t mention the scheduled surgery in advance, but that increases the child’s anxiety, says Fazio.
It’s also a good idea to encourage parents to bring familiar objects from home, such as a stuffed animal or favorite toy. "Something from home can make the hospital environment a little more comfortable for the child and a little more normal," she suggests.