Child Life Therapy
A child life specialist is an essential part of the hospital team taking care of children and their families. Because a child's hospital experience can be overwhelming for both the child and family, the child life specialist is available to help them understand and cope with the hospital stay. Child life specialists provide emotional support for families and encourage optimum development of children facing a broad range of challenging health care experiences. The goal of the child life specialist at CAMC Women and Children's Hospital is to empower children and families to master challenging life events.
Child Life Specialist's Roles
Preparation and Procedural Teaching
If a child is scheduled to have procedures (IV, NG, PICC, MRI, etc.), the child life specialist can be paged to prepare and teach the child and his family about what he may experience. The purpose of the procedural teaching is to reduce anxiety and let the patient explore and ask questions about their upcoming procedure in a safe setting. Child life specialists use medical play, teaching dolls, real medical equipment and pictures of what the patient will see. This is an opportunity to practice distraction and relaxation techniques to ease pain and enhance coping skills. The child life specialist will also educate families about positioning for comfort techniques.
A child may encounter medical equipment in the hospital setting that can cause anxiety and fear. Child life specialists can use medical play to help your child express fears and discuss misconceptions related to his or her hospitalization. By using real medical equipment to perform procedures on dolls, the patient can gain a sense of control and understanding.
Distraction and coping
It is not unusual for a child to be afraid of medical procedures. The child life specialist can ease the child’s fears by focusing his or her attention on something relaxing such as blowing pinwheels or bubbles, singing favorite nursery rhymes or songs, listening to music and playing I-spy games. Guided imagery is also an effective way to help pediatric patients and families cope with the stress of hospitalization and cooperate with invasive procedures. Topical anesthetics are available to reduce pain from procedures. Please talk with your physician if you are interested in learning more about topical anesthetics.
Positioning for comfort techniques
This provides the caregiver with an active role in supporting the child in a positive way during invasive procedures. The caregiver provides a secure, comforting hold for their child. A sitting position during invasive procedures promotes a sense of control for the child and promotes close physical contact with the caregiver. Another benefit of positioning for comfort techniques is that fewer people are needed to complete the procedure. Parents and caregivers can provide comfort and support rather than act as a restrainer. Please ask to see the child life specialist if you are interested in learning different comfort positions.
A pediatric playroom is located on the 5th floor in the pediatric department beside the nurse’s station. Child life volunteers are here throughout the week to assist with activities in the playroom. Please check the calendar in the playroom for scheduled events. Because no medical procedures are allowed in this area, children see the playroom as a safe zone.
Siblings and child visitors under 14 may visit the playroom with the patient. The adult caregiver must stay with visitors under 14.
- If the patient is on isolation or has had a fever in the last 24 hours, he or she is not permitted in the playroom. Toys can be borrowed for your child to play within their room.
- All toys are to be returned to the Dirty Toy Bin.
- Playroom hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
How can caregivers help?
Please note that all children respond differently to hospitalization. When possible:
- Offer the child choices
- Allow the child to express feelings and ask questions
- Cuddle and play with the child
- Be optimistic
- Explore the playroom
- Remind the child that they are not being punished with their hospitalization
- Bring familiar items from home to make the child’s stay more comfortable (blanket, pillow, sippy cup, movies, music or toys).
Siblings are an important part of the hospital experience, for both the sibling and the patient. Visiting a patient in an intensive care unit (ICU) for the first time can be hard for children because the sights and sounds are often new to them. The child life specialist is available to prepare young visitors before they go into our PICU, pediatric department or the Children's Infusion Center. Preparation for their visit can reduce anxiety and offer a safe setting for questions about the patient and his/her condition. It is important that siblings and visitors are healthy and do not have a fever, cold or cough.
Talking with children about death can be an uncomfortable conversation for parents and caregivers. If the family requests support for talking with their children about the death of a loved one, the child life specialist can be consulted. Depending on the child's age and developmental stage, recommendations can be made to the family to support and help children cope with the death of a family member. Goodbye visits for children can be arranged at the family's request. If you would like additional literature on talking with children about death, please request the CAMC brochure, "Helping Children Move through Grief."
Volunteers are a vital part of the child life team. Volunteers work in the playroom to provide one-on-one play with the patient in a group setting. When a patient is unable to leave his room, volunteers can go to the patient’s room to provide age-appropriate activities and opportunities for play on an individual basis. If you are interested in becoming a child life volunteer, please contact volunteer services at (304) 388-7426 to begin the application process.
Because a child needs more than medicine to heal, animal-assisted activities provide the patient therapeutic opportunities to interact with trained therapy dogs. Local volunteers and their therapy dogs allow the patient to interact and play with their four-legged friends. These interactions often result in reduced anxiety, reduced pain and a more positive outlook on the hospital experience. With parent approval, the child life specialist or other pediatric staff will arrange for these special visitors at the patient’s bedside. Please check the calendar in the playroom for scheduled pet therapy visits.
Donating items to the pediatric department
If you are interested in donating toys, DVD’s or arts and craft supplies, please contact the child life specialist for a more detailed description of the current needs.