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Being prepared helps to reduce stress

preparing for surgeryWe're committed to helping children and their families cope as well as possible with surgery.

Click on the links below to get specific information about what to expect for children having surgery.  You will also find a link with tips on talking to your child about their surgery, and preparing them emotionally for the experience. 

Preparing your child for surgery

Support Services Available

Instruction Sheets for Specific Types of Surgery: [updated: 6/4/15]

Cleft lip surgery instructions (PDF)

Cleft palate surgery instructions (PDF)
     > Do's & Don'ts of Feeding After Palate Surgery (PDF)

Cranial vault surgery instructions (PDF)

General pediatric plastic surgery instructions (PDF)

Spanish language instructions




Preparing Your Child for Surgery 

Being prepared for surgery can help reduce your family’s stress and there are many ways to help you and your child prepare for surgery. Parents often ask for information about how to talk with their child about the upcoming surgery. Many families ask when is the best time is to tell their child about going to the hospital.

Use honest and simple explanations that are suited for your child’s level of understanding.  Tell you child that you feel the surgery is the right thing to do. Find a quiet time to talk and speak in a calm and relaxed tone.  Use neutral words to describe the procedure; for example explain the surgeon will “make an opening” instead of “cut.”

It is important for children to express their feelings.  Many children feel frustrated, scared, curious, or anxious. Let your child know that however they feel it is okay.  Ask questions to make sure your child understands what you have said.    

Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers feel soothed by familiar objects and scents.  Bring along your child's favorite toy, blanket, lotion, DVD/CD or other comfort items. Concentrate on preparing yourself. If parents feel at ease, their child is usually able to sense this and react in the same way.

Two- to Six-Year Olds

As children get older, they can be told that they are going to the hospital and what will happen there.  Although it is hard for a child of this age to understand why an operation is necessary, it is important to allow children to express their feelings.  Your child may worry that he or she has done something wrong. Reassure your child that the hospital stay is about having something fixed and is never a punishment. Give him clear and simple responses.

Let him be the doctor to a doll or stuffed toy. He can "operate" on it, give it "shots" or just apply a Band-Aid. Children may express feelings more clearly during play than if asked directly.  Consider talking to your child 1 or 2 days before surgery.

Six- to Twelve-Year Olds

At this age, children are able to understand the reason for the surgery.  You may want to tell your child about the operation 7 to 10 days before.  This will give your child plenty of time to ask question and express concerns.


It is best to include teenagers in the decision making process from the beginning.  They are often reluctant to ask questions and should be encouraged to talk about their feelings and concerns. Be sure to include teenagers in all discussions and decisions about their care, allowing them to feel independent and more in control.

Support Services Available at VCU Children's Medical Center

We believe in treating the whole child—not just the illness. We provide an array of support services to ease a patient’s hospital stay. Patients can visit our playrooms and outdoor play deck, play games or do crafts at their bedside, keep up with school with our hospital teachers, visit with Dogs on Call, and even participate in special events.

Child Life

Child Life helps children and families cope with their healthcare experience by providing play and recreational activities, procedural preparation, pet visitation, emotional support, special events, and a variety of other services. Child Life manages three age-appropriate playrooms and an outdoor play deck. Child Life specialists and volunteers will also bring activities to children who are isolated or not feeling well enough to visit the playrooms. The Child Life Department is available to help prepare children and their families about operations, including tours and medical play.


Year-round school coverage is provided by Virginia’s Hospital Education Program. Hospital teachers will coordinate school work with the child’s school or provide stimulation activities if a child’s level of learning is too young to be in school. Hospital teachers can work with children who turn 2 by Sept. 30th. Homebound services will also be initiated if medically necessary.

Pastoral Care

It is the mission of pastoral care to assist patients and families in responding to the spiritual and emotional effects of suffering, illness, and hospitalization. A chaplain is available 24 hours a day. The interfaith hospital chapel is located on the 2nd floor of the Main Hospital and open for your use. For assistance you may call the pastoral care office at (804) 828-0928 or ask the nurse to page the on-call chaplain.

Care Coordination

Care coordinators will plan and arrange necessary continuing medical care or supplies after discharge. For medical staff to arrange home care and d.m.e, please call (804) 828-0212 M-F 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. On call weekend coverage: (804) 828-4042.

Social Work

A social worker will help the family deal with emotional stress, hospital procedures, financial problems, and post hospital planning. They provide support, guidance, problem solving, and referrals in the community. Ask your nurse to contact a social worker if you need assistance.


Want to relax in bed and watch a movie? We have a large assortment of movies that you may check out from child life. Please call (804) 828-3415 or stop by the office to view a list. We have cartoons, new releases, and old classics. You're welcome to bring your own DVD's from home as well.


Meals are served at approximately 8 a.m., 12 p.m., and 5 p.m. Patient snacks are also provided. No meals are provided for family. Food may be brought from home if allowed on the child’s diet. Food may be stored in the patient refrigerator labeled with the name, date, and time. The cafeteria, Chick-fil-A and Subway are on the 1st floor of Main Hospital. Alpine Bagel Café and McDonalds are on the ground floor of the Gateway Building. Snack machines are available in Main Hospital on the 1st and 7th floors.


A picture ID is required to visit and discharge patients.


We offer families of hospitalized children the ability to create free, secure, personal Web pages to help quickly and easily share news, messages and photos with loved ones. The simple, online service allows families to create and maintain their Web page and message board themselves, with no technical expertise necessary.