The 5 senses rule

by Verena del Valle

1. Explain only what the child’s experience will be.
Include all details, but do not mention anything of what the child will not see, hear, feel, smell or taste. For example, if the child is getting general anesthesia under a mask and a catheter (veinflon) is put in place once the child is already sleeping, it does not make sense to tell the child about the poke. Younger minds cannot distinguish between what is going to happen and what they are going (or not going) to feel.
2. Communicate clearly what the child’s job will be.

I highly recommend using a neutral doll (one that the child is not attached to) for younger children to explain and show the things that will happen on surgery day.

For example, when preparing for induction to anesthesia, tell the doll “Dear doll, you know we care a lot about you and we want you to heal as quick as possible. There is a medicine that helps us stay asleep during surgery, it’s called “anesthesia”. Look doll, here I have a “compresse”, you can touch it, it’s soft. Now I’m going to wet it… you see, it is cold now. Now I will clean your arm – you see – it’s cold. Now your job is going to be to hold very still and blow like when you blow candles of a birthday cake (This gives him a task!). Like this if you feel some “bobo”, we can blow it away! Mom’s job will be to help you hold very still. Everyone has a big job. Great job doll, what band aid do you want, this one or the other one?” When your child will get the vaccination himself, let him choose the band aid ahead of time and hold it during the vaccination.

Tip: If the child is not listening to our explanation, it is also very useful ignoring him and talking just to the doll. This will most certainly catch the child´s attention.

“I highly recommend using a neutral doll for younger children to explain and show the things that will happen on surgery day”

3. Be sure to follow the 5 senses rule.
Use the 5 senses rule to explain, will be often enough for the children, even teens. Explain to the child what he or she will feel on the day of the surgery, taking into account the 5 senses. For example, the surgery room it’s usually cold. Anesthesia usually smells like mint or chocolate (it’s usually administered by mask for children up to 12 years of age). Know more about the surgery protocol in this capsule: How will it the day of surgery be? Step by step.
If the child needs to know more, he/she will ask us.

Verena del Valle

Psicóloga certificada Child Life

Mom but also certified Child Life specialist. Verena is a trained professional with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events, particularly those related to healthcare and hospitalization.

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