Child Life Program in the Fox Valley
What is Child Life?
Play is important. In the hospital, play makes the environment more familiar. Through play, children work through their feelings and anxieties. Preparation and procedural support are very important. Child Life specialists can share information about tests or surgeries in an age-appropriate way. Pictures, books and medical tools are used to help explain what will happen. During a procedure or test, Child Life specialists can help with distraction and relaxation.
Preparing children for the hospital
Going to the hospital can be very stressful for young people. Preparing your child or teen ahead of time will reduce their fears and help them deal with a new experience.
Tips for preparing your child for a hospital stay
- If your child is under age 3, talk to him or her a day or two before the experience. Older children should have a few days to a week to get information and ask questions.
- Be honest. If you do not know the answer, tell your child you do not know but you will find out. Children look to their parents to know how to react, so focus on the positive.
- Use words your child will understand.
- Encourage your child to discuss feelings and ask questions about going to the hospital. Be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.
- Help your child pack a suitcase with the things he or she wants in the hospital.
- Ask to speak with a Child Life specialist about preparing.
It is normal to see changes in your child's behavior before, during or after a hospital visit. Children respond differently depending on their age, the tests or procedures they are having done and their past experiences. Changes in eating, sleeping and toileting are common. You also may notice changes in the way your child behaves.
Child Life staff is available to prepare your child before a medical test. Child Life specialists explain procedures to patients using words children understand, including what they will see, smell, taste and feel. Children are encouraged to express how they feel. Playing with and exploring medical equipment also is encouraged. If you would like the help of a Child Life specialist, ask your child's nurse.
The following are some things to think about when preparing for your child's hospital stay.
Infants (4 weeks to 1 year)
- Learn about your child's illness and how it will be treated.
- Talk with hospital staff about your own feelings and hospital experiences.
- Try to spend as much time as possible in the hospital caring for your infant.
- Bring familiar items (music, special toys or a blanket) to the hospital.
Toddlers (1 - 2 years)
- Since you know your child best, trust yourself about how much information to share.
- Learn as much as you can about your child's hospital stay.
- Toddlers should be prepared one to two days before they come to the hospital.
- Books about the hospital can be helpful when talking with your toddler.
- Medical kits and playing with toddlers can help you learn how much they understand.
- Give toddlers simple explanations to help clear up any misconceptions they have.
- Reassure toddlers that going to the hospital is not a punishment.
Preschool (3 - 5 years)
- Prepare preschool-age children three to five days before their hospital stays. Reading books about the hospital is a good way to prepare children for their hospital stay.
- Ask your child what he or she thinks the hospital is and what will happen there. This will help you understand what he or she knows.
- Playing with medical equipment can help children become comfortable with what they see.
- Ask to speak with a Child Life specialist about additional preparation.
School-age (6 - 12 years)
- Give children specific information about what will be happening.
- Ask what they understand and help clear up any misconceptions.
- School-age children can be prepared up to two weeks before their hospital stay.
- Include children in conversations with medical staff. Otherwise, they may not understand what you're talking about and be scared about what they're hearing.
- Ask to speak with a Child Life specialist about additional preparation.
Teens (13 - 19 years)
- Include teens in conversations and decision-making.
- Use correct terms and provide honest information.
- Encourage your teen to ask questions.
- Offer teens books or pamphlets that talk about their condition or procedures.
- Give teens the chance to talk to medical staff without a parent present. They may have questions they are embarrassed to ask with a parent present.
What to bring
Before you go to the hospital, pack some things from home. If your child is hospitalized suddenly, he or she can tell you what things to bring from home. Most children pack a few of their favorite things, like pajamas, music and a special toy. Some children also like to bring a few pictures from home and a special stuffed animal or blanket to sleep with.
Relaxation during procedures
Child Life specialists teach patients how to deal with their pain. They use distractions such as pinwheels, bubbles or music to help take their mind off the pain. They also work closely with patients to teach them how to relax their bodies to help manage the pain.
Here are some toys and techniques that we use to help distract and comfort children:
- Infants (0-12 months) - Comfort holds, soothing voice and touch. Music rattles, pacifiers, bubbles, mobiles, musical toys.
- Toddlers (1-2 years) - Familiar caregivers, comfort positioning, offering choices. Bubbles, music, singing, magic wands, pinwheels, musical/light-up toys, board books.
- Preschoolers (3-6 years) - Familiar caregivers, comfort positioning, offering choices, role playing, I-Spy books, whistles, bubbles, magic wands, Viewmaster, music, pop-up books, squeeze toys, pinwheels, movies.
- School-aged (7-11 years) - Focus on their strengths, appropriate to give detailed explanations, electronic games, music, jokes, squeeze toys, movies, deep breathing, imagery.
- Adolescents (12-18 years) - Body image and privacy are important, music, guided imagery, movies, squish balls, electronic games, storytelling.
Children communicate through play. Child Life specialists are trained to recognize when a child misunderstands or is fearful and then address those fears and correct misunderstandings. Child Life specialists also use play to help reduce stress and help children express their feelings.
Our hospital playroom is filled with books, toys and art supplies. The playroom is a "safe" place where no medical procedures are performed.
Child Life specialists also coordinate the activities of specially trained volunteers who supervise activities in the playroom and at the bedside.
When a child is in the hospital, it can be very stressful for the whole family. Our Child Life program helps the whole family cope with the hospital stay. While treatment focuses on the child, Child Life specialists also take into consideration the needs of the whole family. Child Life offers unique support for siblings who might need help understanding.
Brothers and sisters can visit the hospital. Child Life can help prepare the sibling for the visit if the situation is scary or difficult to understand. Child Life can help set up activities for siblings during the visit.
For the whole family, it may be helpful to:
- Keep home routines and caregivers as consistent as possible.
- Plan family time for siblings to share feelings and ask questions.
- Keep teachers and day care providers informed.
- Expect some acting-out behaviors.
- Share information in a calm and caring way.
- Spend extra time with your child.
While in the hospital, brothers and sisters may:
- Visit the patient's room.
- Create "buddy cloth dolls" or banners for the patient's room.
- Participate in bedside and/or playroom activities, depending on the child's condition and infection guidelines.
- Create books about being a brother or sister.
- Ask questions about how their brother or sister got sick and if they can catch it.
Activities to help siblings at home may include:
- Creating photo posters and cards for the hospital room.
- Making video or audio recordings of favorite stories or songs.
- Completing an "All About Me" poster to hang in the room.