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Helping Children Prepare for Surgery

September 27, 2019
Having surgery can make anyone anxious, but it can be especially scary for children. To minimize the fear, GBMC’s Certified Child Life Specialists (CLS) work with children to develop coping techniques that help emotionally prepare them for the procedure. In this interview with Mary Beth Marsden, host of Greater Living Live, Jessica Correnti, a certified CLS at GBMC, discusses the role of the Child Life Program and gives tips to parents on how to help prepare their child for surgery.

“Play is the universal language for children,” said Jessica, “we use play to show them what is going to happen before and during their procedure.” Play can mean something different for each patient. For teenagers, it can be as simple as a quick card game to ease anxiety and then talking through the steps of their surgery. For younger children, it can involve working with puppets or dolls to physically show them how their procedure will work.

Regardless of the patient’s age, the CLS will use real medical tools during play to familiarize the patient with the equipment that will be used. Jessica used the puppet, named Hannah, to demonstrate some of the ways the CLS can help calm the patient. When Hannah comes into a room, she is wearing hospital pajamas and has a name bracelet on — something that normalizes what the patient is experiencing. “For younger children, something as simple as changing into hospital pajamas can cause a lot of anxiety. We use the puppets to alleviate the fear of the unknown.”

Jessica also gave tips to parents to help them prepare their child for surgery. “The most important thing I say to parents is not to lie or sugarcoat,” she said, “the truth will come out and you don’t want to break the trust you have with them.” She also talked about how important it is for parents to take care of themselves. If the parents are overwhelmed and stressed out, they aren’t able to be as present with their child as they could be. Jessica said that something as little as sneaking out to get a snack can make a huge difference for parents caring for a sick child.

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