Vocabulary for speaking about surgery

by Verena del Valle

Let’s start with a truth that we already know:

“What you say and what children can hear are two completely different things. For children of all ages, the wrong choice of words can have dramatically negative effects.”

1. Don’t focus on the negatives

Why saying “the medicine you need to take is very bad tasting”? No wonder the child does not want to taste it….. Why not saying instead “it is a medicine that is very important that you take, you have never tasted it before… Tell me afterwards how it tasted!”

More useful examples:

2. Anesthesia or “Special Brilliant Sleep”
Anesthesia is often called “sleepwalking”… Here I invite you to say the following:

“You will get a medicine called anesthesia which works like a Special Brilliant Sleep. Why special? Because you don’t even have to be tired to fall asleep… it’s not the same sleeping as at home. Why brilliant? Because during this special sleep, you don’t notice anything about the operation!”

3. Take into account children’s logic thinking
Tip: For toddlers who don’t really understand the meaning of the operation, I suggest not to talk about sleep…..because 2-4 year olds often don’t want to go to sleep in the evening, or take a siesta…..even less want to sleep in the hospital. Rather focus on “your job will be” – if anesthesia is done with a mask – to breathe in a mask (You can show a picture or ideally, watch the VR experience).
I remember saying once to my 2 ½ daughter, who has never had problems to take medicines with a syrange: “here I have the medicine so that your ears do not hurt anymore” . Then she refused, and I was totally surprised. Then I saw she was covering her ears with her hands, kind of to protect them. The way I formulated “here I have the medicine so that your ears do not hurt anymore” made her think that I was going to introduce the medicine in her ears… 😉

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.