Cartoons May Ease Anxiety for Kids Facing Surgery

FRIDAY Nov. 16, 2012 -- Watching a favorite cartoon can reduce children's anxiety just before they receive anesthesia and undergo surgery, researchers have found.

The new study included 130 children in South Korea, aged 3 to 7, undergoing routine surgical procedures, such as tonsillectomy. In a pre-surgery waiting area, one group of children was allowed to watch a cartoon of their choice while another group was allowed to play with a favorite toy. A third group received no special treatment.

Anxiety scores in the waiting area were lowest among the children who played with a favorite toy. But after being moved to the operating room, anxiety scores were lowest for the children who watched their favorite cartoon. (A "Power Rangers" cartoon was the most popular choice.)

In the operating room, 43 percent of children who watched a cartoon had little or no anxiety, compared with 23 percent of those who brought a toy and 7 percent of those who received no special treatment, the investigators found.

The study was published in the November issue of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

"Cartoon distraction" is an "inexpensive, easy to administer and comprehensive" way to reduce anxiety in young children before surgery, study leader Dr. Joengwoo Lee, of Chonbuk National University Hospital in South Korea, and colleagues explained in a journal news release.

Watching cartoons may reduce anxiety by distracting children, the researchers said. They noted that anxiety before surgery can be a major problem, causing emotional trauma for both children and their parents. In some cases, the study authors said, anxiety before surgery can lead to lasting behavioral problems, such as separation anxiety, aggressiveness and nightmares.

The study confirms what many parents already know about the power of cartoons to distract children, according to an accompanying editorial by Dr. Franklyn Cladis and Dr. Peter Davis of the University of Pittsburgh.

They said further research is needed to determine if reducing children's anxiety before an operation reduces the risk of behavioral problems after surgery.

More information

The Nemours Foundation explains how to prepare your child for surgery.

Posted: November 2012


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