For kids about to undergo surgery, anxiety is common - it's estimated that almost two thirds of children experience fear, stress, nervousness, and worry before entering the operating room. Humor can help alleviate anxiety, so researchers from Florence, Italy, studied whether sending in the clowns could benefit kids worried about surgery.
Forty 5- to 12-year-old children about to undergo minor surgery were divided into two groups. In the first group, a pair of clowns spent time with each child and his or her parent before the child entered the operating room and while the child was being prepared for anesthesia. The clowns used magic tricks, gags, music, games, puppets, word games, and other techniques to distract the child during the preoperative process. In the second group (the control group), only a parent accompanied the child during the preoperative process. Researchers observed each child in the study and noted his or her anxiety levels; in addition, parents and doctors also gave their opinions about the effectiveness of the clowns in reducing anxiety in the children.
When it came to reducing anxiety, there was no clowning around - the children who were accompanied by clowns in the preoperative period appeared significantly less anxious before receiving anesthesia, compared with children in the control group. Both parents and health professionals thought the clowns effectively reduced anxiety in the children.
What This Means to You
The results of this study indicate that the humor and distraction that clowns provide may help reduce anxiety in kids who are preparing for surgery. Even if a clown can't be available in your child's hospital room, you may be able to use music, humorous videos, games, and puppets during the preoperative period to distract your child from his or her anxiety. If your child seems nervous or anxious about upcoming surgery, talk to your child's doctor about ways to allay your child's fears.
Source: Laura Vagnoli, PhD; Simona Caprilli, PhD; Arianna Robiglio, BA; Andrea Messeri, MD; Pediatrics, October 2005.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2005