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Child Life program
Child life specialists are members of the health care team. With backgrounds in development, they specialize in helping children, teens, and families cope with stress and anxiety related to illness, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and trauma. As all children and teens play, child life specialists utilize developmentally appropriate play methods and items to teach patients about their bodies and diagnoses, to prepare for and distract during procedures, and to facilitate emotional expression.
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How a child life specialist can help
Supporting procedures and surgeries
Some patients can become nervous when they do not know what will happen at the hospital. Utilizing developmentally appropriate language, child life specialists can meet with patients and families to ensure they know what to expect for a procedure, surgery, or treatment. Providing information about an environment, medical equipment, or staff involved can help patients feel prepared.
Having the opportunity to make choices and create a coping plan with a child life specialist can help a patient feel in control and can empower patients to positively participate with the healthcare team. Coping plans can include distraction techniques (such as playing on an iPad or Where's Waldo), non-pharmacological pain management tools, relaxation exercises, and coaching. A child life specialist can be present with patients during the procedure where they will implement the coping plan.
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Helping patients understand diagnosis and treatment
It can be difficult for patients to understand medical information. Utilizing a developmental lens and expertise, child life specialists utilize developmentally-appropriate and non-threatening language combined with age-appropriate teaching tools to help patients understand their bodies, diagnoses, and parts of treatment. When children and teens understand what is happening in their bodies or why certain medications are needed, they are often more willing to participate and more compliant with treatment or cares.
The effects of treatment and hospitalization can impact all members of the family, not just the patient. Child life specialists are available to ensure siblings understand what is happening to the patient in the hospital and how they can participate as part of the team. Child life specialists ensure that siblings, too, have expressive outlets and opportunities to play.
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All children and teens engage in play, no matter age, race, ability, or background. Play is a free choice, it is enjoyable, and is often child-directed. Because of this, play is the modality of child life specialists and toys are preferred tools to support patients. Different types of play meet different coping needs of patients of all ages.
Medical play normalizes medical tools and treatment approaches, clarifies misconceptions, and provides opportunities for education, preparation, and assessment. Real medical equipment and toy medical tools are utilized, often combined with medical teaching dolls.
Therapeutic play provides positive outlets for expression. Providing expressive prompts and providing appropriate supportive responses can ensure patients share feelings rather than internalize emotions; this can help patients process feelings and medical stressors. Strategies include the use of play, puppets, writing, art, and music.
Normalizing play is often the most familiar to patients and families. Normalizing play ensures patients can make choices, exert control, utilize imagination and creativity, and learn how to engage with other patients and children. It naturally supports developmental milestones such as fine and gross motor skills, normalizes hospital environments and people, and facilitates trust and comfort.
Children's Wisconsin has several playrooms filled with games, books, toys, and activities. All of the playrooms are considered "safe" rooms where no medical procedures can be performed. Child life specialists coordinate activities and special events for patients to enjoy when at the hospital.
Providing support at end of life
The death of a loved one is a life-altering event that impacts all members of the family. In times of loss, child life specialists work alongside the family to help children and teens understand and cope with death and grief. Child life specialists focus on capturing treasured memories, providing outlets for self-expression, and offering resources for ongoing support.
Group activities are scheduled regularly. Child life specialists plan events such as a family resource fair, State Fair, and winter carnival as well as visits by special guests. Find out how you can bring your group to the hospital or how you can donate toys or create a project for Children's patients.
Access appointment information and medical records, manage prescriptions, and message your child's doctor. Visit MyChart.
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