Melissa Lusk/ March 28, 2018
Every parent dreads telling their children bad news. As the parent of a child with a life changing illness and injury, you will be faced with many difficult conversations. From preparing your child for shots to getting her ready for an MRI or surgery, it is difficult to know what to say, where to begin. Luckily there are members of the healthcare team who can help.
Child Life Specialists are members of your care team, who help make the hospital feel more normal while preparing your child for what they may encounter. Child life specialist have a strong background in child development, understand the impact of a hospitalization on children (and your entire family), and use play as a means to teach children about scary medical procedures. Here are 5 key ways a child life specialist can help you and your family as you navigate your child’s healthcare journey.
1.) Making the healthcare environment comfortable for you and your child: A hospital can be a scary place, with strange noises and weird looking machines. With so many different people entering the room it is oftentimes hard for you to remember what they all do. Child life specialists offer programs and play opportunities that provide normalcy during your child’s stay. They may bring teaching toys to play with at the bedside, do activities in a playroom or set up visits from special guests and hospital volunteers.
2.) Teaching about your child’s diagnosis, tests and procedures: Child life specialists use developmentally appropriate words and teaching tools to help children learn about their illness as well as prepare them for upcoming medical tests or procedures. In age related terms they explain what role your child has in the process. For example, when the nurse is checking their temperature they may tell your child that their job is to put the thermometer under their tongue and leave it there until they hear a beep.
3.) Distraction and coping tips: Child life specialists work with your child and your family to help identify positive coping strategies that can be used when a child is in pain or to distract them during a procedure. This can include teaching your child deep breathing exercises, mindfulness or providing music, games or other toys.
4.) Sibling Support: A serious illness or injury impacts the entire family. Routines are shifted as the family focus turns to taking care of the ill or injured child. Siblings often feel jealous, scared, angry and isolated. Some will begin to have behavioral issues. Child Life Specialists help support siblings by preparing them in some of the same ways as they do their brother or sister who are sick or injured. They use developmentally appropriate explanations and teaching tools to help the siblings understand everything that is happening. Child life specialists also connect with you, the caregiver to help you understand how the sibling may act. They will work with you to best help all your children during this difficult time. This may include preparing activities to help with separation anxiety, thinking about ways to connect the siblings with their brother or sister at the hospital as well as recommending other services such as SuperSibs! or Sibshops, programming specifically designed for siblings.
5.) Helping you: Child life specialists are there to help you too! Children look to their parents for answers as well as comfort during difficult times. If a parent is stressed, children can sense that and may feed off those emotions. Child life specialists can help ease those feelings by helping to address your concerns, help you understand what to expect and discuss ways you can help your child(ren) cope with all that is going on. They can give you scripted verbiage on how to answer your child’s question about their illness, upcoming tests and procedures or even how to help address the many feelings that they may have.
Remember, you need not be alone in this journey. Reach out to your Child Life Specialist who can help you and your family not only survive but even thrive along the way.