Helping your child to prepare for surgery

Your wishes and those of your child are very important. We want to work with you to provide the best possible care for your child. 

It may be possible for you and your child to choose how anaesthetic and other medicines are given. Sometimes there are medical reasons why things have to be done in a certain way. If so, these reasons will be explained to you. Nothing will happen unless you understand and agree with what has been proposed.  

A mother holds her daughter, kissing her on the forehead

How to talk to your child about their surgery

Talking to your child about surgery

We advise you to tell your child: 

  • why they have to go to hospital 
  • when they are going to go in 
  • what they can expect to happen  

Everything should be explained to your child in a way they understand and that is age-appropriate: 

  • use simple words and explain how the operation will help them to get better 
  • an estimate of how long the operation will last, and how long they will be staying in hospital 
  • if they have to stay overnight let them know if you will be stay as well, or not 
  • if it’s not possible for you to stay with your child, tell them when you will be able to visit  
  • encourage your child to talk about the operation and ask questions – books, games and stories can help  

Your child can help pack their own bag and decide which clothes and toys to bring. Please let us know in advance any special requirements your child has and we will do whatever we can to help. 

Support to talk with your child 

If you find it difficult to communicate with your child, members of our Children’s Play Team can help explain and encourage discussion through play. If your child has a learning disability or is autistic, you can also seek guidance from our Learning Disability and Autism Liaison Nurse. 

On the day of your child’s surgery

Delaying surgery 

Occasionally, staff may decide that it would be safer not to go through with surgery on the planned date. This could happen for a range of reasons. For example, if your child has a bad cold, has a rash or has eaten food too recently. 

Read our guidance on fasting pre surgery.


Premedication (a premed) is the name for drugs which are sometimes given before an anaesthetic. 

Not every child needs a premed, depending on the kind of surgery and your child’s condition. You will often be able to help decide, with the anaesthetist, whether your child needs a premed or not. 

Premeds that may be used include:  

  • Sedatives to ease anxiety  
  • Pain relieving drugs such as paracetamol   
  • Medicines to decrease side effects of anaesthetic (for example, nausea)  
  • Medicines for conditions like asthma 

If your child does need a premed, this will usually be given as a liquid. Occasionally, an injection is essential. Premeds are given some time before the anaesthetic. Your child may be sleepy after surgery. This may cause a delay in your child returning home. 

Going to the operating theatre 

Your child may be able to wear his or her own clothes to the operating theatre. If not, we will provide a gown to wear. Your child will be able to keep their underwear on.  

They may travel to the anaesthetic room in a bed, on a trolley, walking or being carried. They will be accompanied by a nurse from the ward. Your child will be able to take a toy or comforter. If you wish, you will usually be welcome to stay with your child until he or she is unconscious. However, there are a few circumstances when this will not be possible.  

Your child may have anaesthesia via gas to breathe in, or an injection through a cannula (a small needle). It may be possible to give the anaesthetic while your child is sitting on your lap. 

You do not have to accompany your child to the anaesthetic room. If you prefer, you can ask a nurse from the ward to go with them, without you.  

After surgery

Your child will be cared for by a specialist nurse until they have regained consciousness and they feel comfortable enough to return to the ward. Some children may need to go to the Intensive Care Unit after their operation. If this is planned it will be discussed with you beforehand. 

Painkillers are given during the anaesthetic, to ensure that your child is as comfortable as possible after surgery. The type and strength of pain relief given will depend on the procedure. You will have a chance to discuss and help plan the kind of pain relief your child will get after their operation. This will be with the anaesthetist, the surgeon or the ward nurses. 


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  • Page last reviewed: 22 July 2022
  • Next review due: 22 July 2023