Pre-op discussion with my toddler?

Hi, I have what may be an odd question, but as a first time, worried mama I thought I would reach out for some advice. My daughter is just over two years old, and was born with 12 toes. She is having surgery to get her extra toes removed as they aren’t fully functional and are a hindrance for her. She has appeared more anxious lately about separating from me and more apprehensive about going to the doctors office. I was told I would not be with her while they put her under anethesia and obviously not during surgery. I was wondering how or if I should try to talk to her about the surgery and me not being able to go with her and the doctors beforehand and what I might say to help mentally prepare her for this? Any feedback would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance!

Good luck to you both. I can’t even imagine how you are feeling. I am definitely not an expert on how to do this but I understand making social stories of situations help. That being said, I don’t know how to do a social story! Hopefully some of the other professionals can weigh in on this too. Sending lots of good wishes to you both.

HI @Mamabear143, welcome! I would definitely be honest about the fact that you will not be with her while the doctors are taking care of her, but you will be with her while she is waiting and you will greet her as soon as she is done. Does she have a security blanket or favorite stuffed animal that the doctors would allow her to have while the procedure is taking place? That may bring her some comfort. I will also tag @Drkarenweiss to see if she has any professional advice. :slight_smile:

Hey @Mamabear143! When my son was 2.5 he had his adenoids and tonsils out. I didn’t sleep the entire night before-I was nervous about hitting traffic and him being scared etc.

I remember simplifying the whole thing by telling him we were going to a doctor who was going to take him into a special room where superheros go. So when he changed into a hospital gown I told him that was the superhero hospital outfit and when they put on the inhaler for the laughing gas to calm him before anesthesia I told him that was the special superhero mask (I was allowed in the OR through that point).

For my son that was very helpful because it kept him calm and interested in what was going on during that time. As my kids have gotten older I am much more direct about exactly what they should expect because they can really understand.

A suggestion I have is to plan for lots of waiting time. They often say to be there by 6 am, but there’s billing, the nurses checks, the doctors initial checks and it can be 2 hours before anything has actually really begun.

Another thing to note is that kids can often wake up hysterically crying from the anesthesia so if that happens, know that that’s totally normal-I’m speaking from a parent perspective here, not a professional.


Your kiddo is lucky to have you as a mom- it’s wonderful that you are being so thoughtful about her feelings! I love @tots-allison’s ideas about superheroes. Maybe you can even help her make a superhero cape and shield before she goes in for the procedure. In terms of talking with her about what’s going to happen, I wouldn’t bring it up too far in advance, since we don’t want her stressing for days, but a couple of days before seems appropriate. You can talk about how strong her body is and about the ways that she can be heroic while in the hospital. I would definitely talk with her about what to expect- and the more detailed the better: “On Tuesday morning we’re going to wake up and get dressed. You’re going to wear a t-shirt and jeans, and we’ll have breakfast and then get in the car. We’ll listen to music in the car- what should we listen to?- and then we’ll get to a big white building…” You can tell her this “story” several times- repetition helps kids (and adults!) internalize new ideas. She might have questions, and you can answer them honestly with age-appropriate information. There are a bunch of books geared toward kids to help them process medical procedures; She might be a bit young for them, but some that I like are “Surgery on Sunday,” “Franklin Goes to the Hospital,” and “Look Inside a Hospital.” (Read them first to vet them.)

It’s also a good idea to bring a lovey, blankie, or other special toy to help her soothe herself when you’re not there. Alternatively, a picture of the two of you or of the whole family, or even one of your shirts that smells like you, can stand in when you can’t be there in person.

Also, most hospitals have child life specialists, who help kids and parents with the emotional part of hospital stays. Consider checking before you go whether there will be a child life specialist available, and if you can connect when you arrive. Good luck!