A hospital stay can be a stressful experience for a child. Children miss home and normal everyday life. They may experience fear, confusion, and unfamiliarity with events. Children deserve to understand what is happening to them.
With the help of the child life team, children can work on mastering these feelings and medical experiences through play, education and support. The child life team plays a crucial role in supporting children and their families by helping them cope with and adjust to the stressors of illness and hospitalization. Child life provides opportunities for building independent behavior and retaining self-esteem. They provide a continuation of regular daily activities to promote normal growth and development. In addition, the team offers diversional activities that allow for creativity and self-expression.
Helping Kids Cope with Hospitalization Podcast
In this interview, Shannon Joslin, manager of child life services at the UM Children's Hospital, talks about why it is so important to help children cope with the many feelings they have about being sick and hospitalized.
The child life team consists of Certified Child Life Specialists and Child Life Assistants. As professionals trained to work with children in medical environments, Child Life Specialists have bachelor's or master's degrees in the areas of child life, child health, child development, family studies, or recreation therapy. Child Life Specialists work closely with the medical team to address the developmental and psychosocial needs of children and families. Child Life Assistants are responsible for running our activity rooms and assist the specialists with providing activities for children at bedside.
Please click here to see child life staff.
Developmentally appropriate activities
Play is an important part of children's lives. Children use play to learn about the world. During times of stress, such as hospitalization or medical treatment, play can provide a safe outlet for emotional expression and processing of experiences. This helps children cope more positively with the experience while promoting optimal development and mastery of the experience. Play is strongly encouraged as a vital part of children's hospitalization and recovery. The child life program offers a playroom and teen room where children and teens can relax and play. Both rooms are "ouch free zones" where medical exams and other stress provoking events are prohibited.
Therapeutic play can help to decrease pain, decrease emotional distress, meet treatment goals, teach new skills, and promote mastery. Therapeutic play may occur at a child's bedside or in an activity room.
This hands-on play experience uses real or pretend medical equipment and supplies to help children become more comfortable and familiar with healthcare experiences. Medical play provides the opportunity for children to work through their feelings and fears surrounding healthcare events, and enables specialists to clarify any misconceptions children may have about their care.
Procedural preparation and support
Child life specialists can help children and adolescents reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures, tests and surgeries using techniques such as alternative focus and relaxation exercises. Specialists can also assist parents in supporting their child during medical procedures.
Often children and their families do not know exactly what to expect when visiting the hospital for certain tests and procedures. The following link directs you to a short booklet geared toward children and designed to help explain the steps of a Voiding Cystourethrogram (VCUG). We encourage parents and guardians to review the booklet before sharing it with your child. Once you are familiar with the resource it can guide you in the best way to explain the actual procedure to your child. See: Preparing your child for a VCUG (Voiding Cystourethogram)
To address children's fears and concerns about scheduled surgery, child life specialists are available during certain hours to prepare children and families for this experience. Consisting of a tour of the outpatient surgical area and a hands-on medical play session, child life specialists will prepare children for what to expect. Pre-surgery tours help children feel more relaxed and in control through the surgical experience.
Click here for a virtual tour of our pediatric surgi-center.
Parent education and support
Child life specialists are available to provide emotional support and information to parents as it relates to helping their child or adolescent cope with illness or hospitalization. Understanding how children at different developmental levels may see their experience can be helpful for identifying how a parent may best support their child.
Click here for a list of resources for preparing and supporting children during healthcare experiences.
Brothers and sisters are affected by illness and injury as well. They may need help understanding what is happening and how to work through their feelings and concerns about their brother or sister who is sick. Child life specialists are available to help siblings by giving support and answering their questions, and can help prepare them for visiting their brother or sister in the hospital.
Holiday celebrations and special visitors
Holidays can be especially difficult for hospitalized children and their families. Normal family routines and gatherings are disrupted. Child life recognizes the importance of celebrating these and other normal life events (including birthday celebrations, special family occasions). Periodic special visitors and holiday parties provide an opportunity for children and families to gather together and have fun.
Child life screens all entertainment and special visitors to ensure appropriateness and safety. If you would like to learn more about how to support these efforts or our guidelines for special visitors, please click here.
Services that indirectly support children and families include:
The University of Maryland Children's Hospital offers both practicum and internship opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in Child Life.
If you are interested in learning more about Child Life, the Child Life Council website at www.childlife.org is a great resource.
Click here for the University of Maryland Children's Hospital's child life wish list
For more information or to contact the child life team, call 410-328-7440.