When and how do you tell your child about surgery?


Super Moderator
You know, I always struggle with this. We have an upcoming outpatient sinus surgery. At least it's hopefully outpatient. My little guy hates PICC lines and IVs to the point of hysteria at times, but hopefully there won't be much of that this time since its outpatient. I don't want him walking through his school day and playtimes fearful. But I don't want to scare the bejesus out of him by saying "Good Morning, we're going to the hospital for surgery today" either! I tend to discuss the issues he's having for a week or so before, and propose surgery as a potential solution, letting him come to the conclusion that it would be a good idea but still feeling like that decision is partly in his control. I don't know if it's a smart way, or if I'm torturing him. Help! How do you all do it and how does it work for you? Any past experiences that were bad as well as good approaches? Sometimes I feel absolutely stupid about this stuff.


Staff member
DS has a horrible needle phobia and I dread taking him to the clinic in June when he's due for his annual bloodwork. With not telling them until the last minute you run the risk of them not trusting you or freaking out from this time on at every single appointment. IMO, What you're doing is probably best -- telling him ahead of time. Just state the facts, ask if he's got any questions... Let him know this is how it's gotta be and promises of a toy, dvd, treat (bribery) when it's all said and done is good, too. :)


Active member
Some Sales Managers talk about the FAB method of sales. Features, Advantages & Benefits. I might try Facts, Advantages & Benefits. You are having this problem (pain, discomfort, etc) Surgery will make the problem go away. Then you will feel great, like all of your friends.

Good luck,


New member
Hi Gammaw. My son gas autism with a severe anxiety disorder and hysteria is putting it mildly with him when he is having a procedure. I have found that telling him about a week in advance with a promise of a special prize after it is over with no fighting, kicking ect. , works great for him.
Now I don't reward everything. But like your son, mine will be having a pic placed with IV treatments every 3 mos for the next 3 yrs. his anxiety is horrible and he just would live in severe fear until it was over.
I have just yesterday, discussed the upcoming events and he did get upset. After one minute, I said ya know, this will definitely earn a prize buddy. He stopped crying and started thinking.
A prize for my son is something he would not get on a just because day. It is something very special to him that he really wants.
he loves video games. He got a new system for Christmas and the games are pricey. He still only has one game. He knows to get a new game he has to earn it through chores and save up or, he will get them on holidays or birthdays.

he has asked for 2 games which I quickly said yes too. Now instead of stressing out about the procedure, he is busy trying to figure out what games he wants.
with autism, my son is very concrete with his thinking. I can not get him to understand why he has to go through certain things, but I can give him some peace.
he will go to the hospital, no fighting, and do what he needs to do to get his prize.
this may not dork for everyone, but it works for us. Good luck!


Super Moderator
I think with surgery you need to. With blood draws and shots I wasn't volunteering it when younger but now ds always asks if anything hard to do and I'm always honest. I do bravery training now a couple weeks before with him teaching a stuffed animal to do whatever is hard for him. Oh, and it was hilarious because after his last shot the next appointment he asked if anything hard. It was with his cardiologist (hole in heart but not serious). I told him no, no shots and no throat culture. We were in the room and he looked around and saw the needle box and asked what it was. I told him. He looked concerned and said why do they need that if I'm not getting any shots. He's four so I thought that was pretty advanced logic!


My daughter had severe needle anxiety. She was hospitalized twice when she was five years old and they needed to draw her levels every day. It was awful for her because five people would be involved in holding her down and forcing it. It got to the point that one time she backed into a corner and threatened to stab me with a pencil. Clearly force was the wrong route.

My MIL suggested a Buzzy so we tried that and I think it helped as a distraction...not sure it helped with the pain.

I ended up just having to be forthright with her. I told her that this is her life - she will always have cystic fibrosis and there will likely be many times that she will have to be poked and it's up to her how she responds. Sure it's scary. Yes, it's ok to cry. But I will always be by her side and we can fight that fear together.

After our talk, she worked on it hard. I would tell her when there was going to be a shot or a blood draw when we went in. Each time we would talk about what to work on...sometimes it was just focusing on breathing, or remembering that the pain would be quick and wouldn't last, or trying to think about happy thoughts. Eventually she decided she was going to try not to cry as much and each time she cried less and less and finally not at all and she was SO PROUD of herself.

She recently took this little quiz about what scares her and allowed her to rank her fears. Needles were on that list. The scale went from "I can handle it" to "worries me a little" then up to "totally freaks me out." She put needles at "worries me a little" but she said she's still working on it.

I think it was important to help her accept the fear and show her that there are ways to conquer it.