The Presence of Parents in the Operating Room

The presence of parents in the operating room reduces stress and anxiety in children. This is due to emotional and physiological factors.
The Presence of Parents in the Operating Room
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 14 June, 2023

The presence of parents in the operating room reduces stress and anxiety in children, according to several studies. Although many children are too young to be aware of the risks of an operation, it’s normal for them to feel anxious during the preoperative period. Therefore, they’re faced with an unfamiliar and intimidating situation, especially if they’re alone. Keep reading to learn more.

Studies corroborate that the presence of parents in the operating room reduces stress and anxiety in children

Research conducted at Dartmouth College examined the effect of parental presence when inducing anesthesia in children prior to surgery. The results concluded that when parents are present and participate in the process, a safe environment is created. This happens because parents have a reassuring effect on their children, as little ones see them as their protective figures and this gives them confidence.

This was corroborated by a study carried out at the Hospital Doctor Peset in Valencia, Spain. The results showed that for 65% of the children who were accompanied by their parents during anesthesia, the process went more smoothly. Moreover, in most cases, there was no resistance on the part of the children. However, in those children whose parents weren’t present, 35% of them suffered a traumatic induction.

Similarly, another study carried out at the Autonomous University of Madrid with some 600 children showed that the presence of parents in the operating room during anesthesia increases the effectiveness of the procedure 7.5 times. In addition, there’s postoperative recovery without the risk of frightful awakenings, besides being faster and more effective.

A mother holding her young child's hand after surgery.
When parents are close to their child before an operation, they not only reassure them but also give them the courage to face the procedure with confidence.

Why does the presence of parents in the operating room reduce stress and anxiety in children?

The fact that parents are present in the operating room while their children are being anesthetized isn’t only due to an emotional factor, but also to a physiological one. When they hug, caress, or hold their children’s hands, receptors called Pacinian corpuscles are activated in children. These are located in the skin and are connected to the vagus nerve. This, in turn, has connections to other nerve endings that regulate different body functions, such as heart rate or blood pressure.

Therefore, physical contact with parents leads to the release of dopamine in the child’s brain. This produces a sense of well-being and reduces the tension, stress, or anxiety associated with that moment. It also increases the production of oxytocin, which calms children and activates the emotional bond with their parents, contributing to a sense of trust.

Is it better to have Mom or Dad in the preoperative room?

In these studies, the participation of mothers has been greater than that of fathers. This is possibly due to the role that women have always played culturally in the upbringing of children. Despite this, it doesn’t mean that the presence of mothers is better than that of fathers.

This is related, above all, to the type of bond and support that one or the other has with the child, according to factors such as trust, for example. Therefore, both fathers and mothers can be great supports and safety references for their children in these circumstances.

A little girl who's afraid to go into surgery, hugging her teddy bear.
Research concludes that if parents are present at the time of anesthesia, children enter the operating room calmer, safer, and more confident.

Regarding the fact that the presence of parents in the operating room reduces anxiety and stress in children…

Throughout this article, we’ve been able to analyze the different studies on the presence of parents in the operating room. They conclude that this accompaniment substantially improves recovery and provides calm during the process. Parents are their protection and support figures, so when children face this unfamiliar situation, having their parents by their side improves the results of the operation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gol, D. et. Al. (2019) Factores relacionados con la calidad de la inducción anestésica y con los cambios de comportamiento postoperatorios en cirugía pediátrica. Influencia de la presencia de los padres en la inducción anestésica. Tesis doctoral. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
  • Vieco, A. (2017) Valoración de la ansiedad perioperatoria en niños sometidos a cirugía mayor ambulatoria. Tesis doctoral, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
  • Soliveres, J. et. Al. (2011) Parental presence in the operating room: effect on the quality of anesthetic induction and postoperative agitation in children. Revista Española de Anestesiología y Reanimación; 58(8): 472-6.
  • Waseem, H. et. Al. (2018) Parental satisfaction with being present in the operating room during the induction of anesthesia prior to pediatric neurosurgical intervention: a qualitative analysis. Journal of Neurosurgery Pediatrics; 21(5):528-534.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.