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How Child Life Specialists Make Hospitals Less Scary for Patients

Thursday, March 5, 2015

180311_30165.jpg | Merlin ID: 51571 | Expiration: 7/1/2023

In observance of Child Life Month, Terry Spearman, Manager of Child Life Services, and Child Life Specialist, Katie Webb, explain how Child Life Specialists help children cope with being admitted to the hospital and talk about their roles at Children’s National.

For many children, a hospital stay can be very scary, particularly if the child does not understand what is happening to them. Child Life Specialists at Children’s National focus on supporting the patient and his or her family in coping with the stress of their illness, injury, or hospital stay. By working closely with the medical team, we are able to provide therapeutic interventions to children visiting or staying at the hospital.

Training helps us prepare kids for a hospital visit

Universities now offer undergraduate and advanced degrees in Child Life. Child Life Specialists specialize in child development and receive training to be able to explain procedures and treatment at a level that a child, at almost any age, can easily understand and comprehend.  Our goal is to ease anxiety so that he or she has a sense of control that they may not have previously had. 

Offering support to patients in isolation

While we work with families and children throughout the hospital, patients in isolation are one of our top priorities. These patients are often unable to interact with family members and friends and some have been out of school for days or even weeks. We offer patients in isolation opportunities to play game systems or board games, knit, participate in arts and crafts activities, or watch interactive closed circuit television.

“We try to provide opportunities for them to socialize, to play and connect with their families and classmates who may not be able to see them in person,” Webb added. “We want to help patients address their feelings about being in isolation.”

Helping the whole family understand treatment

The hospital can be a stressful environment, so it is important that we not only support our patients, but their families too. Siblings may not understand what’s going on with their brother or sister and it’s just as important to us that they understand as much as our patients. We offer resources to parents and are available to support and answer any questions brothers or sisters may have in a child-friendly way. We encourage the family to spend time with the patient the way they would at home.

We provide activities and events that patients and their families can do together. Our regular Thursday “Bingo” event is a big hit with our inpatients. It’s an activity that siblings and even parents look forward to each week.

What it means to be a Child Life Specialist

It’s hard to find a Child Life Specialist who does not absolutely love what they do. 

“One of the benefits of our job is that we get to watch the transformation of a patient who is scared whenever someone walks into the room, to one who is friendly and outgoing,” Webb said. “It’s rewarding when a parent tells us that their child is behaving the way they would at home.”

Learn more about our team of Child Life Specialists.


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