How to Explain a Tonsillectomy to Your Child

It’s often difficult for children to understand what tonsils are and why they may have to be removed. If your child is facing a tonsillectomy, you want to be sure he or she understands what is happening. Learning about the process will take a lot of the mystery—and fright---out of the procedure. 

Following are some guidelines for explaining a tonsillectomy to your child. 



Make sure you understand the procedure

Obviously, you can’t explain the procedure to your child if you don’t understand it yourself. Be sure you don’t have any misconceptions. Remember that, in general, tonsillectomies are performed as an outpatient procedure, so it’s unlikely your child will have to spend the night in the hospital.

Be sure to ask your ENT questions such as:

  • How long will I be able to be with my child before the operation?
  • Can I see my child in the recovery room?
  • What special preparations must we take the night before surgery? 

If your child will have to spend the night in the hospital, be sure to ask about visiting hours and staying overnight in the room with your child.


Explain the tonsillectomy 

It’s a big word, and children can be easily confused. Ask your physician if he or she has age-appropriate educational materials on the procedure. Read the materials together. You may use a favorite doll or stuffed animal to give your child an idea of what the tonsils are, where they are located and what they do.  You can also print pages from this educational coloring book for your child.


Explain why your child needs a tonsillectomy 

Your child will be full of questions, the most common of which is “why?” Explain with calming words in a manner he or she can understand.

Be wary of frightening words, such as “cutting” or “needles.” Tell the child that the doctor will fix the problem at the hospital.


Calm fears

Many children are afraid the operation will be painful, and it’s important they know about the special doctor called an anesthesiologist that gives medicine to make sure they sleep and won’t feel anything during the operation. 

Some precautions: don’t use the word “gas” when describing the anesthesia because some children confuse it with the gas that goes in a car. If you’ve recently had a family pet “put to sleep” or described a deceased family member as “sleeping,” your child may panic at the thought of being “put to sleep.”

Instead, you can tell your child that during the operation, he or she will be given medicine to sleep deeply so they won’t feel anything. Emphasize that after the surgery, your child will wake up and you will be waiting for them. 


Emphasize that you’ll be there after the operation

Tell your child that you will be there when he or she wakes up. Separation is one of the most common fears children experience when faced with surgery. It’s important to let them know that while you’ll be separated during the surgery, you’ll be waiting for them afterward with a favorite toy.


Explain that your child will have a sore throat

Don’t mislead your child by telling him/ her that they will instantly feel better after the operation. It’s fine to tell them to expect a sore throat that will get better. Also, mention that the doctor will give medicine to make the pain go away.


Try role playing

You can use some of your child’s dolls, action figures or stuffed animals to show them what will happen during surgery. You may even wish to role play, giving your child an idea of the things he or she might see or hear. 


Encourage questions

Let your child know that he or she can ask you any questions. You may even work together on some questions your child wants to ask the doctor. This not only provides assurance, but it sets a good example. Your child needs to know that doctors, nurses and others are there to help. This positive interaction can set the stage for healthy habits moving forward.


All of the doctors at Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat have extensive experience with pediatric tonsillectomies—it is one of the most common procedures they perform.

While a tonsillectomy is a routine, minor procedure, there’s no such thing as “routine” and “minor” when it comes to your child. A few simple assurances from you will go a long way toward easing your child’s fears. 


Anon, Jack and Mike Bocianoski. “Jessie’s Tonsillectomy Coloring Book.” Ear Nose and Throat 
Specialists of Western Pennsylvania. Online.

Nemours Children’s Health Care System. “What is a Tonsillectomy.?” Online. 

Nemours Children’s Health Care System. “Preparing Your Kids for Surgery.” Online.