Children's Hospital Colorado
Dr. Duncan Wilcox, Surgeon-in-Chief, performing surgery with other healthcare providers in the operating room
Center for Children's Surgery

Prepare for Your Child's Surgery

No matter how simple or complex your child's operation will be, we understand how you feel: No procedure is small when it's your child. But at Children's Hospital Colorado, we perform nearly 25,000 surgeries each year, and every one of our team members is specially trained to meet the needs of your child and family.

How to prepare your family for surgery

This video helps you and your child understand what to expect from surgery at our hospital:



Research your child's condition and operation

Children's Colorado on Anschutz Medical Campus is home to one of the area's best health libraries: the Melvin and Elaine Wolf Foundation Family Health Library. Located on the first floor of the hospital, the library has information on illnesses, wellness and parenting and in-depth research on medical conditions. Staff librarians are on hand to help you find exactly what you need. We can also email you resources if you're not at our hospital on Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

What to know before, during and after surgery

The best way to prepare for your child's surgery is to know as much as possible about what will happen, and to share that information in an age-appropriate way with your child and their siblings. To help you plan for your child's procedure, here's what to expect before, during and after your visit.

Talk to your child about what to expect

Your child will likely be scared or have concerns when they learn they need surgery. It's important to address their feelings and concerns and to talk openly about what they can expect. This will help them prepare mentally and emotionally and can make the day of surgery go more smoothly.

  • Be honest. If your child asks a question and you don't know the answer, tell them you don't know, but you will try to find the answer. Answer them honestly if they ask if it will hurt, and tell them where it might hurt and for how long.
  • Use familiar words. For younger children, use nonthreatening words your child understands. For example, say "sore" instead of "painful." When describing an "anesthesiologist," you might say "sleep doctor" or "small opening" instead of "incision." Older children, however, may want you to explain things in a more straightforward manner.
  • Talk about how the operation will help your child. Let them know they will feel better after the surgery and that, while they recover, activities and school can be scheduled around their needs.
  • Explain why. Make sure your child understands the reason their surgery is needed, what the doctors and nurses will do, and that it's OK to be scared. Make sure they understand that the hospital stay is temporary.
  • Talk about who you'll meet. Talk about the types of healthcare professionals they might meet during their visit (like doctors, nurses and therapists) and explain that these people are there to make sure they get better quickly.
  • Explain how they may feel. Discuss how your child might feel during the stay, whether they may be tired, have an upset stomach, etc. or where it might hurt.
  • Talk about what hospitals are like. Many children find it reassuring to talk about the similarities between the hospital and home. You can explain that there will be regular meals, chances to play and a private room.
  • Talk about other patients. Talk about some of the other children that your child may meet. It can be unsettling to see people who are sick but remind your child that other kids at the hospital are there to get better, too, and that they like to play and laugh just like your child.
  • Read books that help. Pick up a few books from the Family Health Library or your local bookstore that talk about going to the hospital and read them together. Some of our favorites include Curious George Goes to the Hospital and This is a Hospital, Not a Zoo!
  • Let your child know you will be at the hospital the whole time and you will take them home afterward. One of the biggest fears children have is being alone, but you can put this worry to bed.

Take a surgery preparation tour with your child

The pre-surgery tour at Children's Colorado will help you and your child envision what the day of the operation will be like. Many parents and patients believe the tour was the best way to understand what happens before, during and after the operation. Knowing what to expect helped them feel much calmer and more relaxed on the day of the procedure.

Pre-surgery tours are led by our child life specialists. Child life specialists have special training to discuss the surgery with your child in a non-threatening and age-appropriate manner. These experts are sensitive to your child's needs and make every effort to make the hospital environment feel comfortable to your child.

The tour takes about one hour. During the tour, you will see an operating room, become familiar with the layout of the hospital, and have a chance to talk about what happens the day of surgery.

When to tour the hospital

Generally, younger kids have a shorter memory, so it's best to tour the hospital closer to the date of surgery. Older kids do better with more time to prepare – so it's a good idea to tour the hospital with them further in advance of the surgery. The following age guidelines can help you decide when to schedule your tour.

  • 2 to 4 years old: Parents are encouraged to view the pre-surgery video.
  • 5 to 9 years old: Schedule a tour one to five days before the operation.
  • 10 to 17 years old: Schedule a tour one week to 10 days before the operation.
  • 18 and older: Schedule a tour one to two weeks before the operation.

Make a reservation for the tour

Please call 720-777-3991 or email us with two tour options that will work for you. We will contact you within a few days to confirm a date and a time. Note: pre-surgery tours are only available at our hospital on Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Please provide the following information in your email:

  • Your first and last name
  • Your child's first and last name
  • Child's age and date of birth
  • Type of operation or procedure
  • Date of operation
  • Two preferred dates for the tour
  • The number of people who will attend the tour (limited to immediate family members only)
  • Your name and a phone number where you can be reached Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Important surgery tour tips

  • Arrive a few minutes early, as we start the tours promptly.
  • Tours last approximately one hour.
  • Please limit the number of people in your tour to immediate family members only (parents/guardians).
  • During visitor restriction periods (e.g., flu season), siblings are not allowed on tours or in the hospital.
  • Please note that it is important to schedule your tour as soon as possible to ensure your preferred date.
  • Occasionally, we may need to cancel tours due to hospital activities or department scheduling conflicts. If we have to cancel your tour, we will contact you with other available options.

If you need to cancel your tour, please do so as soon as possible. Email us at SurgeryTours@childrenscolorado.org or call 720-777-3991.

Once you've settled on a date for your child's procedure and familiarized yourself with what to expect, it's time to start planning for the big day. Here are tasks you can do in the few days leading up to your child's surgery so that you are ready to arrive at the hospital and get checked in on time.

Create a list of questions

During your pre-operative consultation with your child's surgeon or family doctor, you can bring a list of questions to help you understand your child's condition and what to expect from the procedure.

This list of questions can help you get the conversation started:

  • Why is this operation necessary?
  • How long will my child be in the hospital?
  • How will anesthesia be given?
  • Will my child need oxygen or an IV?
  • How will pain be controlled?
  • How will my child look and feel after the operation?
  • What type of home care will my child require following surgery? For how long?

Get in touch with other parents

Talk to other parents and patients who've experienced the same procedure. They can help prepare you for what's ahead and offer the support you may need.

Make care arrangements for your other children

For overnight hospital stays, two adults may stay with the patient, but brothers or sisters may not stay overnight. Visitors under the age of 13 are not allowed in clinical areas but can wait in the waiting area if they are supervised by someone over the age of 13.

To make this easier on your family, it's best to make arrangements for your other children to stay with family or friends so you can be with your child in the hospital.

Gather important information to bring

Instead of worrying about paperwork the night before the surgery, take time in the days leading up to the surgery to collect:

  • All paperwork given to you by your child's doctor(s)
  • Insurance card(s) and related information
  • List of medications your child is taking, including dosages

Pack a bag

Depending on how long your child will be at Children's Colorado, you'll need to pack enough to get through your stay. This could include:

  • Comfortable daytime clothing
  • A favorite nightgown, pair of pajamas or robe
  • Slippers or shoes
  • Special bottles, cups, books, toys or bedding
  • Hairbrush, comb and barrettes
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and other toiletries
  • Photos of friends or family
  • School books and assignments
  • Glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and dental retainers
  • Children with specialized wheelchairs and/or tubes should bring appropriate supplies
  • Activities for parents (books, tablets, etc.)

Whatever you decide to pack, please be sure to label personal items and clothing you bring to the hospital. We'll do our best to help you keep track of them, but it is your responsibility.

Please do not bring the following items:

  • Latex or rubber balloons
  • Valuables or anything of monetary or sentimental value. This could include such things as jewelry, portable music or game devices.
  • Weapons of any kind. These are not allowed on any Children's Colorado property.

Each department or clinic may have specific guidelines, so ask in advance if you have any questions.

Make sure you know how to get to the hospital

Sometimes, your child's surgery may take place at a different location than the one you have previously visited to see the doctor. Make sure to check your paperwork for the exact location of the surgery, and then find driving directions and parking information for the right Children's Colorado location.

Pre-register

Like other visits to Children's Colorado, you will need to pre-register your child for their surgery appointment. A staff member from surgery registration will call you at least three days before your child's appointment to confirm that the necessary information is complete and correct.

Please have the following information handy:

  • Your child's legal name
  • Your child's date of birth
  • Your home address
  • The primary care doctor's name
  • The guarantor's legal name, ID card, mailing address and phone number (the guarantor is the person responsible for payment of the patient's bill)
  • The guarantor's insurance card policy numbers, insurance claims address and customer service phone number
  • The copay amount due for the child's visit and procedures
  • Parents' or legal guardians' names, dates of birth and social security numbers
  • Parents' employers and work phone numbers

While on the phone with the surgery registration representative, you should also confirm the location of your child's surgery to make sure nothing has changed.

Attend your pre-operative appointment

For some procedures, your child may need a pre-operative appointment. During this appointment, you'll be able to meet the surgeon and possibly some members of his or her care team. This is a great time to ask questions about the procedure, as well as what to expect during recovery.

Your child may also need to have blood drawn or a physical exam performed so that the care team can make sure your child is ready for the day of surgery.

Monitor your child's health closely

If your child becomes sick within the week before the operation, call the surgery department. Tell your child's care team about important health changes within three weeks before surgery. These could include:

  • Fever
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Exposure to chicken pox, measles, strep throat or other illness

If specific symptoms related to your child's surgery or diagnosis change, make sure to update the surgeon. Your child's surgeon may want to reschedule the appointment based on how your child is doing.

The day of your child's procedure can be hectic, so make sure to plan ahead and have everything ready to go in the morning. Here are a few tips to make sure the day goes smoothly.

To help prevent surgical infections, please have your child take a bath or shower the night before surgery or the morning of surgery.

Prevent infection with clean skin before surgery

You can help lower your child's risk of infection by following these instructions to make sure your child’s skin is clean:

  1. Give your child a full body shower or bath the night before and/or the morning of surgery. Use a clean bar of antibacterial soap or regular soap. Wash your child’s hair with your usual shampoo. Rinse well with water.
  2. If your doctor wants you to use a special skin disinfectant soap or wipes, we’ll give you instructions on how to use them.
  3. Your child should use clean towels and put on clean pajamas or other clothing after each shower or bath. Your child should sleep on clean bed sheets the night before the surgery.
  4. Don’t shave or use any hair removal products at the site of surgery for one week before surgery.
  5. Don’t get new tattoos or piercings in the three months before surgery.

Pay attention to eating and drinking rules

Follow these rules before your child's surgery or procedure to make sure their stomach is empty at the time of anesthesia. If your child's stomach is not empty at the time of anesthesia, stomach contents can come up and enter the lungs (called aspiration). Aspiration can cause serious problems.

Type of food and drink: Child can have until:
Solid foods (for example, meat, eggs, yogurt and bread) 8 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Non-clear liquids:
  • Non-clear juices, such as orange or carrot
  • Broth, Jell-O
  • Infant formula, non-human milk (cow, soy, almond, etc.)
  • Tube feeds
  • Thickeners
6 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Breast milk 4 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Clear liquids:
  • Water, Pedialyte, clear apple juice, sports drinks and soda (such as Sprite)
If you can see through it, it is clear. If in doubt, don't give it to your child.
2 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Medications:
  • Take with a sip of clear liquid.
  • If your child needs to take medication with food, call 720-777-5337 for instructions.
2 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Gum, candy or mints Do not give to your child on the day they are having anesthesia.

Download the eating and drinking rules in English (.pdf) or Spanish (.pdf).

Give yourself plenty of time

Make sure to plan enough time to pack your bags, get your child in the car and drive to the location where the surgery takes place. Being late to your check-in time can delay your child's surgery, as well as other children's appointments.

Check in before surgery

During your pre-registration call, the surgery registration representative will give you a time to check in. Make sure to arrive at the check-in desk at the given time to pay and get your child settled before the surgery team calls you back.

Give blood (if needed)

Your surgeon will tell you if your child may need extra blood during the operation. If so, we have a full-service Blood Donor Center to meet your child's needs. Autologous (self) donations are an option for some patients. A patient can donate their own blood in advance to be stored and used during their surgery or operation.

We also encourage parents and friends to donate blood, as it's a great way to support your child and to maintain a supply of blood for all children in the hospital.

Directed blood donations (blood given for a specific patient) can also be made by people known to the patient or parents. These donations should be made at least three days before the operation so that all testing may be completed in time.

Contact our Blood Donor Center at 720-777-5398 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

The hospital providers pagers to parents so they can be notified of any updates during their child's surgery. Feel free to talk a walk, grab a bite to eat or just relax while you wait.

Get comfortable

Parents are always welcome and may stay with your child overnight. Every patient room is a private room complete with a double bed. One or both parents may stay with their child.

Follow visiting hour rules

For family and friends (excluding parents or guardians), general visiting hours are from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. A patient may only have up to two visitors (not including parents) in the room at one time. Visiting policies can vary based on location and department, so please ask if you have any questions.

Please keep in mind:

  • Visitors who are sick with a cold, fever, diarrhea, rash, flu, chicken pox or some other infectious disease will not be allowed to visit.
  • Visitors under the age of 13 must always be accompanied by an adult and be checked each day for infectious diseases before visiting. Children will be screened when you check in at the nurses' station on the floor.
  • Siblings of patients who are not in isolation may use general play areas but should not enter other patient rooms to play.
  • Visitors must wash their hands before leaving the patient's room.
  • Special visiting restrictions are in place between December and April during flu and respiratory season when harmful germs can be spread easily.

When your child starts to wake up, the nurse will bring you to their bedside so you can sit with them. Immediately following the procedure, it's useful to know:

  • Children waking up from anesthesia may cry and seem confused. This is common.
  • Your child may be wearing a mask and breathing with some extra oxygen.
  • IVs and tubes may be visible. These are to help keep your child stable after surgery.
  • Pain and discomfort are part of most surgeries. If you're worried about your child's pain or have questions about the medication given, don't be afraid to ask your child's care team.

Depending on your child's procedure, you will either:

  • Help your child get dressed to go home, OR
  • Go with them to their inpatient room

When your child is officially discharged, the attending nurse or other team member will help you get to your car, often with your child in a wheelchair. There are volunteers and nurses available to help you get your child in the car if they are unable to do so with just your help.

Receive discharge orders

Once the doctor has given the discharge order, your child's healthcare team will begin to make the arrangements for a safe and comfortable transition home. We may need a little time to coordinate services with other community providers if your child requires any special care, medical equipment and supplies.

Ask questions before leaving

You will be instructed by your doctor about any care needed at home, medications and follow-up appointments. Think through any of you questions or concerns before you leave the hospital and be sure to get them answered so that you are confident about going home. If you do forget a question, do not hesitate to call the number provided in your discharge paperwork to follow up.

Here are a few questions that may be good to ask:

  • Which activities should my child avoid?
  • Are there foods that are off-limits?
  • When can my child return to school/play?
  • What should I be aware of over the next few days?
  • Do we need to come back for any reason?

Schedule any follow-up appointments

The surgeon or care team will inform you of post-operative appointments that your child needs. You may be able to schedule them while still at the hospital, or the team will give you a number to call to schedule later.

Parents and caregivers can use the following tips to help children adjust after a surgery or procedure.

Stock up on simple foods and drinks

This can include items like broth, apple juice, Kool-Aid, popsicles and Jell-O. It is not uncommon for kids' stomachs to be upset after a procedure. Start with softer, bland foods like oatmeal, bread, crackers, bananas, yogurt, etc. Follow the doctor's discharge instructions about food and wait until your child is ready to try something more filling. Your child should start to feel hungry in 12 to 24 hours.

Plan some quiet play and games

Your child may be tired and sore, but children are also prone to boredom. Find quiet games or toys they can play with in bed or on the couch. Don't forget the books!

Limit activity

Also let siblings know their brother or sister will need to take it easy for a while, and that quiet play is great for helping their sibling's recovery.

Plan a special celebration or gift

A special dinner, new book or toy can make coming home a celebration, as well as help entertain your child while they recover.

Be aware of possible behavior changes

Children may act differently after a surgery or procedure. These behavior changes are normal, especially for young children who have less ability to understand and talk about it. For most children, behavioral changes after a surgery or procedure last no more than two weeks.

What to expect:

  • Young children may need more attention and may act cross and demanding. They may have nightmares, poor appetites or bathroom accidents, even if they are potty-trained.
  • Older children may act younger, test limits, or become withdrawn or clingy.

You can help return your child return to their normal routine by:

  • Being understanding
  • Setting gentle limits
  • Encouraging independence
  • Giving them chances to play and talk about their surgery or procedure

If you are concerned about your child's actions or condition following a surgery or procedure, call your doctor's office or the specialist who performed the surgery or procedure. Remember: We are here for you.

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