Talking to your child about an operation

Explaining to your child why he or she is coming into hospital is so important and makes a huge difference.

But you might find it difficult because going into hospital is worrying or upsetting even for adults, and children need to be reassured in a way that works for them.  

This list might help as a starting point:

  • Choose a time when it is quiet and you won't be interrupted.   
  • Use storybooks, leaflets or pictures to help you explain - our Child and Family Information Centre can give you these. You can download some information leaflets from this website, but please ask the Child and Family Information Centre or Play Centre for more advice if you are unsure.
  • These books are very helpful; you should be able to find them in your local library.
  • When I Went to Hospital by Juliet Bawden
  • Going into Hospital by Anne Civardi
  • Or contact our Play Centre (0121 333 8650) for more help. The staff there will be happy to advise you or can arrange to see your child before their admission.
  • Action for Sick Children also produces free leaflets to prepare your child for hospital. Please phone its national office on 0207 843 6444. Or visit its website: for more information.
  • Encourage your child to play with a hospital set, if you have one, or pretend to be doctors and nurses.

You can arrange to visit the ward or department when you know which one your child will be going to. You can contact them directly and the staff will be happy to arrange a visit or tell you about any pre-admission clinics they organise.

If your child is going to have an operation, answer their questions honestly. Explain that they will have a special sleep (anaesthetic) and that they might feel a little sore afterwards but the nurses will give them some medicine to help them feel better. Reassure your child that you will be able to stay with them.

Plan with your child: decide what special toy to take with them, help them choose which pyjamas to take or buy something new to take with them, such as a new toothbrush.

Easy-read materials to help your child understand what will happen when they come in for an operation

Our specially designed resources are a great way to help your child understand the process of coming in for an operation. Try sitting your child down and going through the simple pictograms in our "My Operation" document. It will help them to picture what will happen on the day and can help you to prepare them for their visit.

Contact details

Contact details for any questions or more help should be written on your admission letter.

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