By The Child Life Team
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
The month of March is set aside to celebrate children and the profession of child life specialists who are dedicated to providing positive coping tools to support your child. To celebrate child life month, our team of child life specialists will share a few helpful tips to help your child cope well with their hospital experiences.
If we’re being honest, nobody likes to be surprised by medical procedures. Whether it’s a blood draw or radiology exam, we all tend to cope better when we are prepared with information about what to expect for the procedure. Children are no different; they need age appropriate information regarding what they will encounter. At The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, our team of child life specialists work closely with other medical staff to make sure your child has access to the tools and resources they need to have a positive coping experience.
Child life specialists advocate for proper preparation and teaching because stress and coping theories tell us that children tend to cope well when they are given appropriate information regarding a potentially stressful event. According to these theories, our minds evaluate a potential experience based on two assessments: 1) the perceived threat of the stress, and 2) the access to resources to minimize or address the stressor (Lazarus & Faulkman, 1984). Child life specialists believe in addressing both factors to reduce stress and improve the overall coping experience.
Provide age appropriate information about the procedure
Children will understand and express themselves differently at each developmental stage, which is important to consider as your prepare your child. If you are preparing a 5 year old for an IV, you will use simple and clear language and may say, “The nurse will give you a small tube or straw in your arm so that your body can get the medicine it needs.” Generally, children ages five and up understand events in sequence of events, so it is best to describe the experience in steps.
Older children will benefit from more information and often ask questions about details of the procedure. It is important to provide honest and clear language when preparing your child. We want our children to trust us and know that we will tell them the truth, so we encourage for you to be honest in the best way you can. Children also benefit from receiving sensory information regarding what the procedure will feel, smell, or look like (i.e., “tight rubber band, cold soap, and small poke”).
Identify resources your child can access for coping
Children cope well when they are given “jobs” such as holding still and having something else to concentrate on. Some of my favorite coping techniques in the Emergency Room are taking big breaths, counting, or holding someone’s hand. Items for alternative focus can be ISpy books, tablet games, or blowing bubbles. These techniques can also help with pain management, which further decreases stress.
Some children may not want to concentrate on anything else and like to watch the procedure, in which case we suggest to support their preferred coping technique in a safe way. Some helpful things you can say during the procedure are:
“Let’s take some slow, deep breaths together.”
“Count to ten with me.”
“Would you like to squeeze my hand?”
When we practice and utilize coping strategies like the ones listed above, we teach our children that no matter how frightening or stressful an experience may be, there is always something we can do to help. We want to empower our children to cope with not only blood draws and CT scans, but to also learn valuable coping skills that they can use for future life events.
That is the heart of the child life profession after all. We will do nearly whatever it takes to help children take small steps to overcome challenges and grow in big positive ways.
Take time to play and Happy Child Life Month!