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Preparing Your Child for Surgery

Support resources for patients and families

It is helpful to have a parent or other caregiver stay with your child while they are receiving treatment.

We recognize this is a stressful time for both you and your child and we strive to provide family-centered care while you are hospitalized. There are many resources available including the Child Life program, Chaplain services and Social Work services. We also provide interpreters to our non-English speaking families.

Preparing Your Child and Yourself Emotionally

There are several things you can do beforehand to prepare for your child's surgery. The list below has been compiled based on suggestions offered by our patients and their families:

  • Be knowledgeable about your child's diagnosis and surgery:
    • Never hesitate to ask questions of our staff, and don't be afraid to ask again if you don't understand.
    • You may be overwhelmed by everything that is happening, so it may be helpful to make a list of questions and concerns as you think of them.
    • Read all the information presented on our website thoroughly and ask about available literature
    • It is often possible to speak with another parent about their experiences and preparations. Keep in mind that everyone's experiences are individual and your specific circumstances may differ. If you are interested, discuss this with the pediatric surgery nurse, or social worker.
  • It is recommended that you make an appointment to meet with or speak to one of our child life specialists to help prepare your child for surgery.
  • It may help to bring a couple small things that serve to comfort your child (favorite toys or keepsakes, books, or pictures of friends and family)
  • If your child's surgery will require a hospital stay, you should bring something to keep you and your child occupied (books, games, sketchbooks, music player, laptop computer, instructional cds, etc.)
  • As your child's caregiver you need to remember to also care for your own needs:
    • Maintain solid connections with your social and emotional support network (bring your address book, stationary, a phone calling card or cell phone)
    • You might find it comforting to document your experiences (keep a written journal, tape record yourself, and take pictures or video)
    • You might want to also bring your own comfort items (pictures of your family and friends, religious or spiritual texts, inspirational poetry, or your favorite keepsake)

Social Services

Social workers are available at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital to assist families coping with the many psychological and social problems arising from a hospitalized or chronically ill child. Social workers help identify possible areas in family life that may be affected. They serve as counselors, help find resources, solve problems and act as "friends on the inside." Any concerns related to the psychological, practical or social well being of your child or family may be discussed.  Please call our office to arrange contact with our pediatric surgery social worker.

Chaplain Services

Being hospitalized, dealing with illness and uncertainty can be an extremely challenging time. Many people find that talking with a chaplain can help during this period.

An integral part of our health care team, chaplains representing many faiths are available around-the-clock to be a caring presence, offer spiritual and emotional support, and listen with openness and understanding. Patients, families and staff are encouraged to call a chaplain when experiencing feelings of fear, anger, loneliness, helplessness, anxiety, grief or loss, or when they just need someone to talk to. Chaplains also are available for times of celebration, prayer and rituals.

Chaplains are available to support all of our patients regardless of their beliefs and religious affiliation. Patients do not need to be affiliated with a congregation or faith community to call a chaplain. Your minister, rabbi or other spiritual advisor may visit you or your family member at any time.

Child Life Department

A hospital stay can be a challenging and unfamiliar experience for children and their families. The Child Life Department at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital helps children and families adjust to and understand hospitalization, illness, injury and treatment. Child life specialists and teachers work closely with the medical team to provide the best possible care for each child and family. Our goal is to promote normal growth and development while reducing the stress that can be caused by illness and hospitalization. We work with each child and family individually to ensure that their developmental, emotional and psycological needs are being met while they are cared for at UCSF Children's Hospital.

Child life specialists are available to help prepare children for medical treatments and procedures, which are explained using teaching tools, special dolls and medical equipment. We help determine each child's level of understanding, including any misconceptions he or she may have about the hospital experience. Child life specialists also help children develop coping strategies like imagery, distraction and relaxation to reduce anxiety.

The Child Life Department offers a number of services designed to make the hospital experience as positive as possible for both patients and their families. These services include:

  • Age-appropriate activities, such as games, reading and art projects
  • School program
  • Therapeutic play, including medical play
  • Individualized explanations of medical tests, procedures and surgery
  • Procedural support, pain management and coping education
  • Orientation to the hospital through tours and individualized play
  • Family and sibling support
  • Visits from community groups and celebrities
  • Holiday celebrations
  • Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) pet therapy
  • Weekly bingo and other closed circuit television activities
  • Education on growth and development, reactions to hospitalization and going home

Reading Suggestions, For families

The following is a list of several children's books that are available for parents to read with their child before the scheduled operation. The specific books listed are for parents to review for appropriateness. Our office does not recommend or endorse any of these publications. More children's books can be found on UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital: Children's Books

Doctor Visit and Surgery

  • "Madeline" by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • "Why Am I Going to the Hospital?" by Claire Cilotta and Carole Livingston (For 6yo and up)
  • "A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital" by Deborah Hautzig (Grover has a tonsillectomy)
  • "The Hospital Book" by Mal Warshaw and James Howe
  • "Curious George Goes to the Hospital" by Margret and H.A. Rey (Curious George swallows a puzzle piece and needs to have surgery to remove it.  Out of print, but many libraries have it.)
  • "Going to the Hospital" by Fred Rogers
  • "A Big Operation" by Richard Scarry
  • "Franklin Goes to the Hospital" by Paulette Bourgeois (Franklin gets a crack in his shell and needs to have surgery to fix it)
  • "Corduroy Goes to the Doctor" by L. McCue (Out of print, but libraries might have it.)
  • "Jenny in the Hospital" by Seymour Reit (Maybe out of print)
  • "Having an Operation" by Arthur Greenwald and Barry Head (Hard to find)
  • "Henry Goes for Surgery" by Renita DeChellis
  • "Your Child in the Hospital; A Practical Guide for Parents" by Rachel Prentice and Nancy Keene (This is an excellent book for parents and family members.)

Books for Siblings

  • "What About Me? When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick" by Allan Peterkin, MD illustrated by Frances Middendorf (Laura talks about what it's like when her younger brother gets sick and has to go to the hospital)
  • "When Molly Was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children" by D. Duncan
  • "My Brother Needs an Operation" by Anna Jowarski

Bone Marrow Transplant

  • "Me and My Marrow" by Karen Crowe (May be out of print)

Cancer and Oncology

  • "Oncology, Stupology…I want to go home!" by Jill M. Thomas
  • "The Amazing Hannah, Look at Everything I Can Do!" by Amy Kleet and Dave Kleet (Available through Candlelighters Foundation. Available in English and Spanish)
  • "Taking Cancer to School" by Kim Gosselin, Karen Schader, and Tom Dineen


  • "My Brother Needs an Operation" by Anna Marie Jaworski (From sibling perspective about younger sibling who need to have cardiac surgery)
  • "Cardiac Kids:  A book for families who have a child with heart disease" by Vicci Elder (Written from the perspective of a sibling.  Discusses more pre-operative tests then what happens after heart surgery)
  • "Hear Your Heart" by Paul Showers (Ages K+)
  • "How Does Your Heart Work?" (Ages: 8yo+)


Ear Surgery

  • "KoKo Bears Big Earache: Preparing Your Child for Ear Tube Surgery" by Vikki Lansky (Has information for parents as well)
  • "Tubes in My Ears" by Virginia Dooley
  • "Usborne First Experiences: Going to the Hospital" by Anne Civardi and Michelle Bates (Boy has ear surgery and spends one night in the hospital. UK based book with British themes and scenes)
  • "Chris Gets Ear Tubes" by B. Pace (Available in Spanish)

Eye Surgery

  • "My Fake Eye: The Story of My Prosthesis" by Nancy Chermus-Mansfield, MA and Marily Horn, LCSW (Young Brian needs to have an eye removed and then gets his prosthetic eye. Available in Spanish)
  • "Blueberry Eyes" by M.D. Beaty (Little girl has strabismus repair to correct crossed eyes)


  • "A Boy and a Bear - They Children's Relaxation Book" by Lori Lite

General Information About Hospitals

  • "Out and About at the Hospital" by Nancy G. Atteburg (Class takes a field trip to a hospital and sees the emergency department, admitting office, etc.)

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