Children's Hospital Colorado
Center for Children's Surgery
Center for Children's Surgery

Prepare for Your Child's Operation or Surgery

You are in the best surgical hands

No matter how simple or complex your child's operation will be, we understand how you may feel: No procedure is small when it's your child. But, while it might be foreign to you, at Children's Hospital Colorado, we perform nearly 25,000 surgeries each year. Every one of our team members is specially trained to meet the needs of your child and your family. Rest assured, you are in the best hands.

How to prepare your family for surgery

The best way to prepare is to know as much as possible about what will happen and to share that information, in an appropriate way, with your child and their siblings. You'll want to know all about your child's condition or illness, the procedure, and how to find your way around the hospital. Your family will want to know what to expect too, so we've provided some hints and tips for talking to them.

The presurgery tour at Children's Hospital Colorado will help you and your child envision what the day of the operation will be like. Many parents and patients believe the tour was the best way to understand what happens before, during and after the operation. Knowing what to expect helped them feel much calmer and more relaxed on the day of the procedure.

Presurgery tours are led by our child life specialists. Child life specialists have special training to discuss the surgery with your child in a non-threatening and age-appropriate manner. Our specialists are sensitive to your child's needs and make every effort to make the hospital environment feel comfortable to your child.

The tour takes about one hour. During the tour, you will see an operating room, become familiar with the layout of the hospital and have a chance to talk about what happens on the day of surgery.

When to tour the hospital

Generally, younger kids have a shorter memory, so it's best to tour the hospital closer to the date of surgery. Older kids do better with more time to prepare – so it's a good idea to tour the hospital with them further in advance of the surgery. The following age guidelines can help you decide when to schedule your tour.

  • 2 years of age: Parents are encouraged to view the presurgery video.
  • 5 years of age: Schedule a tour one to five days before the operation.
  • 10 years of age: Schedule a tour one week to 10 days before the operation.
  • 18 years of age: Schedule a tour one to two weeks before the operation.

Make a reservation for a surgery preparation tour

Please call 720-777-3991 or email us with two tour options that will work for you. We will contact you within a few days to confirm a date and a time. Please note that presurgery tours are only available at our hospital on Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Please provide the following information in your email:

  • Your name
  • Child's name (spell last name)
  • Child's age
  • Child's date of birth
  • Type of operation or procedure
  • Date of operation
  • Two preferred dates for the tour
  • The number of people who will attend the tour; please limit to immediate family members only
  • Your name and a phone number where you can be reached Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Important tour tips

  • Arrive a few minutes early, as we start the tours promptly.
  • Tours last approximately one hour.
  • Please limit the number of people in your tour to immediate family members only (parents/guardian).
  • During visitor restriction periods (e.g., flu season), siblings are not allowed on tours or in the hospital.
  • Please note that it is important to schedule your tour as soon as possible to ensure your preferred date.
  • Occasionally, we may need to cancel tours due to holiday activities or department scheduling conflicts.
  • If you need to cancel your tour, please do so as soon as possible via email or by calling 720-777-3991.
  • If we have to cancel your tour, we will contact you with available options.

Based on our experience, the more parents know about what to expect, the better parents and kids will feel. If you are nervous or frightened, your child will pick up on it. So, do everything you can to feel as confident and calm as possible.

Research your child's illness or condition and operation

Children's Colorado on Anschutz Medical Campus is home to one of the area's best health libraries: the Melvin and Elaine Wolf Foundation Family Health Library. Located on the first floor of the hospital, the library has information on illnesses, wellness and parenting and in-depth research on medical conditions. Staff librarians are on hand to help you find exactly what you need.

Ask questions

Ask your child's surgeon or family doctor to help explain your child's condition,the procedure and what to expect. These questions can help get the conversation started:

  • Why is this operation necessary?
  • How long will my child be in the hospital?
  • How will anesthesia be given?
  • Will my child need oxygen or an IV?
  • How will pain be controlled?
  • How will my child look and feel after the operation?
  • What type of home care will my child require following surgery? For how long?

Take care of yourself, too

Don't underestimate the toll that stress and worry can take on you. Spend time with family and friends and share your feelings. Make sure you are well-rested and well-fed — your child will be counting on you for support and comfort.

Get in touch with other parents

Talk to parents whose children have also had operations. They can help prepare you for what's ahead and offer the support you may need.

Plan a great homecoming celebration

Involve your child, the rest of the family and, if you like, a friend or two. Let your child know how exciting it will be to come home. Pick a special movie or meal, let siblings decorate the house and concentrate on how fun it will be to have everyone home together.

Infants and toddlers
Very young children need little preparation. They do, however, quickly pick up on parents' emotions. Your confidence will help reassure your child. At this age, children have little concept of time, so don't begin talking about the hospital until a day or two before the operation.

Preschool and young school-age children
Talk to your child about going to the hospital three to five days before the operation. It's important to give your child time to think it over and ask questions. At this age, you’ll want to be sure your child knows it is not their fault and that they will feel better after the operation.

Older school-age children and adolescents
Discuss the operation with your older child as soon as it is scheduled. Talk to your child again about four to five days prior, answering any questions they might have. At this age, let your child make as many decisions about the procedure as possible. Also, respect your child's need for some control over who you tell about their condition and procedure.

How to talk to your child

Be honest.
If your child asks a question and you don't know the answer, tell them you don't know, but you will try to find the answer.

Use familiar words.
For younger children, use nonthreatening words your child understands. For example, say "sore" instead of "pain." When describing an "anesthesiologist," you might say "sleep doctor." Say "small opening" instead of "incision." Older children may want you to explain things in a more straightforward manner.

Talk about how the operation will help your child.
Let them know they will feel better after the operation and that, while they recover, activities and school can be scheduled around their needs.

Let your child know you will be at the hospital the whole time and you will take them home afterward.

More ideas and activities for your family

  • Tell your child to bring a favorite toy, book, security blanket or other treasured item. Older kids may want to bring books or hand-held games.
  • Let your child make choices before and after the operation, when appropriate. For example, ask your child which clothes they'd like to pack for the hospital or which toy they'd like to bring.
  • Encourage your child to draw pictures as a way to express feelings and thoughts about the operation. Ask them what they were thinking about while they drew.
  • Suggest that your older child keep a journal of thoughts and feelings about the surgical experience.
  • Include your child in planning homecoming activities, such as a movie night or a celebration with favorite snacks.
  • Encourage your child to play doctor and talk about the upcoming operation. Use a doll or stuffed animal as the patient. This type of play may get your child to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Practice deep-breathing exercises, alphabet or counting games as distraction techniques. You can also squeeze your child's hand right before surgery or to distract from any discomfort afterward.

Your child's operation can also be scary and cause tension for siblings or your child's close friends. Try to include them in conversations about your child's operation so they feel confident, too.

  • Talk about the operation using nonthreatening words they understand.
  • Be sure to include brothers and sisters in planning homecoming activities.
  • Ask a friend or family member to care for siblings on the day of surgery; you will want to focus on the child having the operation.
  • If brothers and sisters must come with you to the hospital on the day of surgery, bring another adult with you to help. Our Creative Play Center offers free childcare for siblings up to 9 years of age.

Children are accepted to the Creative Play Center on a first-come-first-served basis. Call 720-777-1234 for more information.

PLEASE NOTE: Siblings who are sick should stay at home. They cannot be permitted in any pre-surgical area or the hospital in general. Germs are easily spread and can be harmful to patients having operations.

Anesthesia is the use of medicines called anesthetics to make your child unable to feel pain during an operation or procedure. General anesthesia is like being asleep because your child is unconscious; however, it is different from natural sleep. Your child will not wake up until the anesthetic is turned off or the medicines wear off.

What to expect from anesthesia

If your child is going to have surgery or a procedure at Children's Hospital Colorado, the anesthesia team will first review your child's medical record and details of the operation or procedure. Members of the anesthesia team will meet with you and your child to ask additional questions and review your child's medical history. They will explain what anesthetic we plan to use and answer any questions you may have.

Depending on the type of surgery or procedure, your anesthesia team may speak with you about different types of anesthesia, such as:

  • General anesthesia
  • Local anesthesia
  • Spinal anesthesia
  • Epidural anesthesia
  • Regional anesthesia or "nerve block"

Sometimes these different kinds of anesthetics are used in combination.

Induction of anesthesia

Induction is the procedure where we give medicines to make your child lose consciousness. In children who do not already have an IV, we usually induce anesthesia by having your child breathe through a mask. The anesthetic has a funny smell, but we add flavors in the mask to make it smell better.

With inhaled anesthetics, the induction is very fast. After as little as 30 to 45 seconds, your child will no longer remember what happens. If your child is over 1 year old, you may be able to stay with them during induction to help them feel more comfortable with the process.

For older children, our team will consider factors like your child's age, previous health history, the type of surgery or procedure, and your comfort level when deciding whether you can be in the room during induction. If you cannot be with your child for induction of anesthesia, we will discuss other helpful alternatives like coping mechanisms or relaxing medicines. Your anesthesiology team can help you decide what's best for your child and family.

Constant monitoring, comfort and care

After induction, we usually put an IV in a vein in your child's hand, arm or foot. We will give anesthetic medicine during the entire operation or procedure to maximize safety and comfort. We will continuously monitor all your child's vital functions, including heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing and oxygen levels during every moment of the surgery or procedure.

Often the anesthetic is a combination of medicines, some that your child breathes and some medicines that go in an IV. Sometimes we give medicines called local anesthetics to the area of surgery so that it is numb after the operation to make your child more comfortable. At the end of the operation, we will stop giving the medicines and your child will slowly wake up.

Your child will wake up in the recovery room or post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) with a specially trained recovery nurse at the bedside. You are usually reunited with your child when they are waking up. The recovery nurse will give any additional medicine needed and watch your child until they are ready for discharge.

Common side effects of anesthesia

The following side effects may happen when your child wakes up from anesthesia. They are not harmful and will go away within a few hours or a few days:

  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of coordination
  • Acting "out of sorts"

Specialty-trained pediatric anesthesiologists help keep your child safe

Severe reactions to anesthesia are very rare. The most severe – and the rarest – can be life-threatening. Parents feel comfortable knowing that Children's Hospital Colorado is one of the top pediatric hospitals in the nation, and our anesthesiology team members have the skills and experience to keep your child as safe as possible.

For questions, call the Anesthesiology Department at 720-777-6226.

Eating and drinking rules before surgery

Follow these rules before your child's surgery or procedure to make sure their stomach is empty at the time of anesthesia. If your child's stomach is not empty at the time of anesthesia, stomach contents can come up and enter the lungs (called aspiration). Aspiration can cause serious problems.

Type of food and drink Child can have until:
Solid foods (for example, meat, eggs, yogurt and bread) 8 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Non-clear liquids:
  • Non-clear juices, such as orange or carrot
  • Broth, Jell-O
  • Infant formula, non-human milk (cow, soy, almond, etc.)
  • Tube feeds
6 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Breast milk 4 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Clear liquids:
  • Water, Pedialyte, clear apple juice, sports drinks and soda (such as Sprite)
  • If you can see through it, it is clear.
  • If in doubt, don't give it to your child.
2 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
  • Take with a sip of clear liquid.
  • If your child needs to take medication with food, call 720-777-5337 for instructions.
2 hours before arrival for surgery or procedure
Gum, candy or mints Do not give to your child on the day they are having anesthesia.


Download the eating and drinking rules in English or Spanish.

Your surgeon will tell you if your child may need extra blood during the operation. If so, we have a full-service Blood Donor Center to meet your child's needs. We also encourage parents and friends to donate blood, as it's a great way to support your child, and it helps maintain the supply of blood for all the children in the hospital.

Directed donations

Directed donations are made by people known to the patient or parents. These donations should be made at least three days before the operation so that all testing may be completed in time.

Autologous blood donation (self-donation)

Autologous (self) donations are an option for some patients. A patient can donate their own blood to be stored and used during their surgery or operation. Contact our Blood Donor Center at 720-777-1234 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Surgery preregistration

Like many other visits to Children's Colorado, you will need to pre-register your child for their surgery appointment. A staff member from Surgery Registration will call you at least three days before your child's appointment to confirm that the necessary information is complete and correct. Please have the following information handy:

  • The child's legal name, date of birth, home address and primary care doctor's name
  • The guarantor's legal name, ID card, mailing address and phone number (The guarantor is the person responsible for payment of the patient's bill.)
  • The guarantor's insurance card policy numbers, insurance claims address and customer service phone number
  • The copay amount due for the child's visit and procedures
  • Parents' or legal guardians' names, dates of birth and social security numbers
  • The names of the parents' employers and work phone numbers

Be sure to confirm the location of your child's surgery.

Monitor your child's health closely

If your child becomes sick within the week before the operation, call the surgery department. Tell the surgeon about important health changes such as fever, cold or flu symptoms. You should also call if your child is exposed to chicken pox, measles, strep throat or other illness within three weeks before surgery. Your child's surgeon may want to reschedule the appointment based on how your child is doing.

Before the day of surgery or procedure

  • Take a tour
    • Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora 720-777-3991
    • South Campus in Highlands Ranch 720-478-0285
  • View the presurgery tour video.
  • Make care arrangements for your other children. Sometimes there are restrictions during flu season. For overnight hospital stays, two adults may stay with the patient, but brothers or sisters may not stay overnight. Visitors under the age of 13 are not allowed in clinical areas but can wait in the waiting area if they are supervised by someone over the age of 13. 
  • Follow the eating and drinking NPO (nothing by mouth) rules. If your child eats or drinks too close to the time of the surgery or procedure, you will have to reschedule the procedure.
  • Make sure you have the following information ready for the phone call you will receive from Patient Access. This call can happen any time after the hospital has posted the surgical case up to one week up to one week before the surgery or procedure.
    • Guarantor's name (the person responsible for paying the patient's bill)
    • Parents' or legal guardians' names
    • Copay amount due for the child's visit and surgery or procedure
  • If a nurse calls for a patient review over the phone, be sure to tell them:
    • If your child has any signs of illness, such as a cough, cold, vomiting or fever
    • If the person bringing the child on the day of the procedure needs a translator (family members may not translate medical information for the patient or guardian)
  • Gather important information to bring on the day of the surgery or procedure:
    • All paperwork given to you by your child's doctor
    • Insurance card(s) information
    • List of medications your child is taking and dosages of the medications
  • Pack an overnight bag for you and your child if staying overnight. Include:
    • Comfortable daytime clothing
    • Favorite nightgown, pajamas or robe
    • Slippers or comfortable shoes
    • Toothbrush and other toiletries
    • Containers for glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and dental retainers
    • Special bottle, cup, pillowcase or blanket
    • Favorite book or toy
  • Make sure you know how to get to the hospital.
    • Get more information about our locations online.
    • For complete driving directions, call:
      • Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora 720-777-6000
      • South Campus in Highlands Ranch 720-478-0285
Lora talks about her experience with Children's Hospital Colorado when her two daughters had tonsillectomies.

The Connection Journey: Reassurance Before Your Child's Surgery

Both of Lora's daughters had tonsillectomy surgery. Now she's sharing advice on everything from anesthesia to recovery with another family about to go through it.

Watch their journeys