How to Help Your Child Heal

Mother tending sick child at homeCaring for your child after surgery is a serious task. It is important to follow all of the instructions given to you by your child’s healthcare team. This page, created by the Family Teaching Program at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital, is designed to help guide you in that care, but should not replace your child’s physician discharge instructions.

Whether your child is admitted to the hospital or sent home depends on the type of procedure they have had and whether their medical condition needs further monitoring. That decision is made by your child’s surgeon and anesthesiologist.

If the plan is for your child is to go home after surgery, they will be discharged once they recover. The amount of time spent in the recovery room is different for all children, and can be anywhere from one to three hours or sometimes more.

Before your child is able to go home, the healthcare team will make sure that they:

  • Are fully awake
  • Have normal vital signs — heart rate, breathing, temperature and blood pressure
  • Can drink some liquids without becoming nauseated or vomiting
  • Are managing pain and feel comfortable enough to go home

When it is time to go home, your child’s nurse will give you a sheet of written instructions with specific information about how to care for your child at home. Make sure you understand:

  • Signs and symptoms of possible complications from your child’s surgery, and whom you should call if needed
  • Any medications your child may need, such as antibiotics or pain medications; make sure you have any prescriptions you need
  • Any treatments you need to do, such as dressing changes, limb icing/elevating
  • Any special equipment, bandages or supplies that may be needed
  • Any activity restrictions your child may have, and the length of time these restrictions need to be followed
  • When your child may have a bath or shower
  • When they may return to school or day care
  • When to return for a follow-up appointment
  • How to contact your surgeon’s office in case you have any questions when you are home

It is very important that you follow all of the discharge instructions exactly as they are written, even if your child appears to be feeling better or seems ready to return to normal activities.

Activity

Your child’s sleep habits and napping patterns may be disrupted following surgery, and your child may sleep more than usual for the first 24 to 48 hours after being discharged. Your child will need plenty of rest after their procedure. Limit strenuous activities like biking, lifting and sports until after your child's follow-up appointment.

Create a quiet and restful environment and keep things simple by:

  • Encouraging naps and periods of rest
  • Offering quiet, restful activities like reading, board games/cards or watching movies
  • Not overwhelming your child with guests

Anesthesia and pain medications can make your child feel off balance and unsteady on their feet. For the first 24 hours after surgery, and while your child is on prescribed pain medications, watch your child closely and make sure your child does not fall.

  • Support them when they walk or crawl.
  • Watch them around sharp corners or objects.
  • Help them go up or down stairs.

Eating/Drinking

Your child’s stomach may feel sick, or they may have some vomiting which should improve after 24-48 hours. Have your child start eating and drinking slowly. Stick to clear liquids — such as water, ginger ale, apple juice and popsicles. As long as they don’t vomit, try a bland, light meal like soup, crackers or toast. When they are comfortable with those, then they can go back to eating their regular diet. It is not important to force your child to eat, but make sure you encourage fluids to keep them well hydrated.

Pain

Your child may have some pain, be irritable or run a low fever. Give medications as instructed. Medications may not take away your child’s pain completely, but should help make them as comfortable as possible. If you feel your child needs a stronger or different medication, contact their surgeon.

Behavior

Following surgery, your child may have trouble adjusting once they are home. They may behave differently, with problems like:

  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Clingy behavior
  • Eating changes
  • Hyperactivity
  • New fears — such as not wanting to sleep alone or needing a night light
  • Acting younger —with regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking

Be assured, this behavior is temporary and normal. In a few days, they should be back to themselves. While you wait:

  • Reassure your child that they are safe and well.
  • Be patient and give them some time.
  • Try to keep a normal routine to help them start to feel like themselves again.

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