Child Life Specialists turn tears and fears into giggles and courage
Tryphena Farmer is a Child Life Specialist at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Center. Her job is to make sure kids can be kids in the face of injury, illness and treatment.
She refers to herself as the child translator.
"For a child, hospital lingo is the equivalent of being in a foreign country's airport trying to find a flight home. How scary might that be?" Farmer says. "We use words that make sense to children to talk about fears, medical equipment and hospital procedures."
Recently, Farmer helped make a clinic visit less scary for an anxious 10-year-old girl by helping the patient decorate a nitrous mask with stickers before an uncomfortable procedure. During the procedure, Farmer played games on an iPad to distract the girl from any discomfort.
When the appointment was over, Farmer asks the girl if the procedure was as bad as she anticipated.
"Nope," the 10-year-old girls says. "It hurt a little at first, but then playing games was pretty fun."
Connecting with kids using craft supplies and iPad apps is only one part of a Child Life Specialist's job. As advocates of family-centered care, Child Life Specialists also work in partnership with doctors, nurses, social workers and families to meet the emotional, developmental and cultural needs of each child and family.
March is Child Life Month. Meet the Mary Bridge team and find out why creativity and play are important for helping kids heal.
"Allowing kids and teens the opportunity to be creative during their hospitalization gives them an opportunity to express their feelings and process their experiences. We want to treat the whole child, and make sure we meet the emotional needs of kids and teens, as well as the physical ones."
"Play is essential as it provides our patients with an opportunity to gain control of something in the moment. It allows children to express their emotions, find validation in their experience, and just have fun. It can be an escape from talking about their bodies, the medicine and, sometimes, the unknown."
"Children blossom when provided an environment where they feel safe enough to explore and create on their own. They need to feel a sense of control and ownership to begin the process of healing. This is what play offers."
"Having surgery can be a very stressful thing for the entire family. Play really helps channel nerves and energy for many kids of all ages. When parents see their child relaxing and playing, they tend to relax as well, which helps make it a better experience for everyone."-Valerie Chance
"Play is a child’s language. Through play a child can learn about the "Why, When and Hows" of the hospital experiences. Play is also a great tool for Child Life to understand what a child perceives, thinks or is feeling about an experience or upcoming procedure."
"When working with and caring for kids, everything begins with play. We develop relationships and trust through play. Children learn, grow, figure things out and have fun when they play. When we play with kids it provides an insight as to who they are, what's important to them at that time, and what they understand."
"Creativity allows children to express themselves and tell a story about how they feel. When play takes a creative or artistic form, it can help kids heal by reflecting upon what is happening in their lives."
"Everything in the hospital can be very scary and foreign to kids, so finding creative ways to approach kids, and fun things for them to do while they are here, provides a sense of comfort and friendliness. Making things as normal as possible helps to promote the healing process."
-Lou Ann League
"Often times children are not able to express or process things the same way an adult does; play is their language and toys are their words. In the health care environment play can be an outlet, an opportunity to express oneself, and it can help them gain knowledge and better understand their environment."
The goal of Child Life Specialists is to minimize the stress and anxiety of children and families receiving medical care. Learn more about Child Life Services at Mary Bridge.
About The Author
Jen Rittenhouse is the social media manager for MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. She writes stories that connect people with hospitals, health care and each other. You can reach her at [email protected].
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