During the first few weeks of your baby's life, you should make an appointment to see a craniofacial surgeon, a doctor who specializes in reconstructive surgery and repair of craniofacial anomalies. The surgeon will explain any recommended procedures, and you may tour the medical facility. The surgeon and nursing staff can help you prepare your child for the surgery and hospital stay, and can advise you of what to expect.

Wait until a day or two before the hospital stay to tell your preschooler about the surgery. Young children do not have a long-range concept of time. Older children, however, should be given as much notice as possible and encouraged to ask questions and participate in preparations. Be honest and answer all of your child's questions clearly and simply, keeping the information age-specific. You are the best judge of what your child can understand or is emotionally ready to handle. Typically, children want to know why they have to go to the hospital, how long they will stay, where you will be during their stay, and whether anything will hurt. In answering your child's questions, avoid negative statements. For example, instead of telling a child to expect to experience pain, emphasize that medicine will be given to make him or her feel better.

Find out about the routine at UC Davis Children's Hospital in advance by calling the cleft and craniofacial team coordinator at 916-734-2452 and arranging a tour for you, your child and other family members. A staff member will escort you through the facility and explain various processes. During your visit, you might also want to ask about how to use role-playing games at home to help prepare your child for diagnostic tests, anesthesia and surgery.

Tell your child that you or some other familiar adult will always be close by during the hospital stay, if that will be true. Children can feel lonely and abandoned in a strange place, especially when they're facing surgery. We also understand that work and family obligations sometimes make frequent or extended hospital visits difficult for parents. Please reassure your child that the hospital is staffed by caring people who are always ready with comfort and kindness, especially during those times when Mom or Dad cannot be there. Encourage your child to express any fears or concerns. Let you child know that feeling afraid or crying is OK, and people there will understand.