Visits to the hospital can be traumatic for young patients who don't fully understand what's going on, and that can make things difficult for all involved in delivering care. However, child life specialists at Children's Hospital Colorado can help turn a potentially scary hospital visit into a more positive experience.
Child Life Specialists at Children's
When children need to undergo anxiety-inducing procedures - such as radiology tests, lab work, suture removal or stitches - child life specialists help by focusing on the psychological needs of patients. By explaining to kids what to expect in terms they can understand, child life specialists enable children and their parents to feel better prepared for medical visits. Learn more about the Child Life program at Children's.
"The primary reason children experience anxiety is because they lack information or receive misinformation from older siblings, friends or their own imaginations," said Jen Liska, CCLS, Child Life Specialist on staff at Children's Hospital Colorado North Campus. "We deliver honest, age-appropriate information using techniques like medical play with real or pretend medical equipment to help children become more comfortable in the hospital. Relaxation exercises also can be used to help reduce anxiety about a procedure. Studies show that kids who are prepared often require less pain medication afterward."
Calming techniques utilized by child life specialists at Children's include:
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
- Medical and therapeutic play
- Positive self-talk
- Procedural coaching
- Systematic muscle relaxation
"I love having child life specialists available at the hospital," said Erika Sidney, MD, Assistant Medical Director of the Emergency Room at Children's. "They use various methods to distract children, such as playing with a toy or reading a book, and help reduce negative responses to treatment by explaining what to expect. Child life specialists also provide support for parents and siblings to help them understand what the child is going through, address their concerns and answer any questions they may have."
Believing in what they do
For Jen Liska, the decision to become a child life specialist came after she heard a first-hand account of how much child life specialists mean to their patients.
"I have always wanted to work with children, and when a friend of mine passed away from cancer in high school, I had the opportunity to meet her child life specialist," Liska said. "She knew just the right way to explain things and made such an impact on me, and that's when I discovered my calling."