The hospital world is one of many codes. For those of us who work here, we are trained to react quickly and with great precision when a code is initiated.
Just like with the many codes used in the healthcare world, the tools and procedures that child life specialists reach for when we’re called upon are truly evidence-based, and are an important part of your child’s health care.
As I child life specialist, when I hear the sound of crying toddlers who are having their vitals taken in preoperative bays, I grab the magical bubbles that are packaged in a crayon shape. Off I go down the hall, like the Pied Piper playing a flute of bubbles. Ninety percent of the time, bubbles work to quickly calm a tearful child. The other 10 percent, the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) becomes any number of extraordinary characters equipped with magical toys. Okay, that may be a bit exaggerated, but that often is how my day feels as I enter the PACU and the preoperative work ups begin.
From the outside, it probably looks like my fellow child life specialist team members are “playing” with children. While this is often the case, what we are doing is more than playing. The reason we provide play is because play is crucial for children. It normalizes the environment and provides learning opportunities. Building quick rapport through play can allow the ability to connect with a child and ultimately dispel misconceptions. We can use these opportunities to teach about medical equipment, procedures, exams, and the hospital environment. Normalization of the environment is key to helping kids feel safe and comfortable in an unknown, often scary environment.
We show kids pictures or let them touch medical devices like an IV, the “world’s tiniest straw.” Giving children the opportunity to explore the environment on their terms and providing opportunities to ask questions is crucial. Upon seeing a picture of the light in the OR, I have often had children ask me if the light was a laser beam that would cut them open. Something so simple – but an unknown in the mind of a scared child can turn into a traumatic event when it doesn’t need to.
Child life specialists work together with your child’s medical team. We may be able to provide the medical team crucial information obtained through play and education. Often we can assist in decreasing fear and worry simply by connecting with the medical team before you and your child see a provider, and sometimes even before you come to the hospital.
If we can help calm your child or reduce their fears, it often helps to ease the transition in the medical environment while a clinician takes a child’s vital stats, completes an exam or performs a procedure.
On the flip side, some children are compliant out of fear, so we try to meet every child to assess fears or misconceptions. Our goal is not to dispel all fears – let’s be real, being in the hospital is not a fun way to spend a day. Our goal is to provide comfort, teach coping, and educate. We can validate feelings without discounting them.
Your child may not have a choice about getting a poke, for example, but we may be able to give him or her choices about how it happens. Maybe a child would like to sit on a parent’s lap or have the nurse count to three. Helping children and families to feel empowered in a situation where they have limited control is my biggest passion as a child life specialist.
While I specifically work in the surgery area and Disorders of Sex Development Clinic, child life specialists are available in almost all areas of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. If we are not present, we can be paged to meet a child or family when needed. Our goal is to reduce fears, educate, promote coping, and empower children and families.
Take the next step:
- Learn more about our Child & Family Life team.
- Read how one child life specialist helps reduce anxiety for kids with cancer.
Jennifer Holly, CCLS, is a certified child life specialist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Jennifer works primarily with children in the surgery clinic and in our operating room areas, as well as with children in our Disorders of Sex Development Clinic.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.