Meet the Child Life Specialists at Mary Bridge
Eva's mother is one of the countless parents whose fears are at ease when a child life specialist is putting a smile on their sick child's face.
"It was amazing to have Tryphena there," Eva's mom says. "She made the hospital less scary for Eva. She could stay with Eva at times that we [her parents] couldn't, like when she went in for surgery, so she was never alone."
Tryphena Pinch is a Child Life Specialist at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Center. Her job is to ensure that kids, like Eva, continue to be kids, despite the fear and uncertainty of life threatening illness, injury and treatments.
She refers to herself as a 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?" Pinch says. "We use words that make sense to children to talk about fears, medical equipment and hospital procedures."
When Eva came into the emergency department with a broken arm, she was scared and in pain, but Tryphena immediately eased her fears. She explained what was going to happen in surgery in a way that Eva could understand, and when they prepared to take her back for surgery, Tryphena dressed in a gown and gloves (just as a surgeon does) to make Eva laugh.
Eva's parents said that because Tryphena could go into the operating room when they couldn't, it helped Eva continue to be brave.
Back in her room after surgery, Tryphena and Eva were busy decorating a matching cast for Lamby – Eva's cherished stuffed lamb. She was too busy treating Lamby's broken leg to be worried about her arm, which put a smile on her parents' faces.
Connecting with kids using craft supplies, toys, iPads and even virtual reality glasses is a vital piece of creating a fun and creative environment for patients, but it 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. This includes specific work with siblings of children who are going through treatment.
Kristen Bishop, a Child Life Specialist in the Mary Bridge Hematology/Oncology Clinic, works with siblings often and says it's important to individualize interventions and activities to help validate their perspective.
"It's scary when a brother or sister is sick," she says. "We recognize that the experience of a sibling truly is unique. We want them to feel included and hope they feel connected to their family, even when they’re apart."
March is Child Life Month. Meet our Mary Bridge team and see how their passion for preserving childhood has turned into a career worth celebrating not only this March, but all year long.
Valerie Chance"Child Life is important to the healing process for children because we help make the distinction that treating children is very different than treating adults. We help remind the health care team that children need more than medicine to get better, that play is important to their healing process too, and that children need information in a language they can understand. Learning what to expect either through medical play, pictures or tours of the surgery department are all important distinctions that Child Life provides for patients and families through their medical journey."
Jesse Bartlett"Play is fundamental to being a kid and can be a bridge to communicating with kids. Kids use play to express themselves and to cope with new situations. Play is normal, so it helps get kids from a place of fear, anxiety or stress to a place of familiarity and comfort."
Lou Ann League"Everything in the hospital can be very scary and foreign to kids. Child life specialists try to provide a sense of normalcy amidst all the chaos — which in turn helps to promote the healing process. They engage with kids (patients and their siblings) to teach them about diagnosis and treatment. They provide distraction through play to help kids champion through pokes and other procedures with less or no fear."
"Child life specialists are vital to the healing process for kids because our job is to focus on them, provide them opportunities to express themselves, teach them about what is happening and why they are here and bring fun into an unfamiliar and unpredictable environment. We partner with the multidisciplinary team to keep the child's emotional needs part of the conversation and care plan. This supports our overall mission of 'partnering for healing and a healthy future.'"
"Growing up I always wanted to be in a helping profession, either a teacher, nurse or counselor. Child life is the perfect combination of all of these things. It takes more than medicine to heal a child."
"Children are naturally creative and play is their native language. Thus it is vital to include play and creativity in their hospital experience to normalize the environment. Children can and will do all the work it takes to heal if you give them the creative opportunity to do so. Walking after surgery is much more exciting if you are going on a scavenger hunt or playing 'I spy.' Taking deep breaths is way more entertaining if you are blowing a pin wheel or bubbles. Taking new medications is way more fun when you get a sticker to add to your sticker chart each time you swallow it. Wearing a nitrous mask is way cooler if you get to decorate it with stickers. Play is everywhere, if you know how to find it, and child life specialists know where to look!"
"First and foremost, we help kids be kids. The hospital is a not-so-fun place, but we help them heal by normalizing their environment. We also help them understand what is happening by explaining it to them in terms that they can understand. We empower, advocate and validate."
"This job is a significant honor and joy in my life. To be let into moments and situations with kids and their families that could be the worst of their entire life is something that I do not take lightly. To be a person who has the opportunity to listen to concerns of a parent and offer practical support, provide a distraction technique that helps a patient get through a painful procedure, or engage in a fun game or activity that helps someone completely forget their current circumstance — these moments fill my cup and keep me coming back day after day."
About The Author
Brittney Lott is a social media specialist for MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. She has a black belt in telling stories for digital platforms. That means gifs, <280 characters, Insta stories, Boomerangs and anything else that captures your attention and makes you stop scrolling. You can reach her at [email protected]. More stories by this author