Making the hospital less scary for children
"Our main job is to help educate and normalize the hospital experience for patients and their families," says Certified Child Life Specialist Jennifer Seiler, MED, CCLS. "We help children understand the reason they're in the hospital and prepare them for the experiences they're going to encounter."
Seiler said those experiences can look different depending on the unit the child is visiting. The Child Life Program has specialists in several GBMC pediatric care units, the pediatric combined care unit (ED and inpatient), pediatric surgeries in the Women & Children's Outpatient Surgical Center, and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
"Younger children often feel hospitalization is a punishment for something they did wrong, so we help ease their fears through play and conversation," Seiler says. "We let them ask questions, read books, watch the doctors, and play role reversal with a teaching doll."
Seiler says the specialists are also there to support the parents. "They're often more nervous than the kids, so we talk to them about who they're going to meet and what's going to happen next with their child's treatment."
Seiler emphasizes that the goal is to build trust with the medical staff and familiarize the children with any procedures they need. Accomplishing this goal eases anxieties for both the patient and family members.
The specialists in the Surgical Center play more of a preparatory role: meeting with families before the child's scheduled surgery, getting to know the family, and explaining ways to help the child prepare and feel more comfortable with the surgical visit.
The Child Life Program has specialists in several GBMC pediatric care units, helping children and families prepare for the stresses of going to the hospital.
"We encourage families to use play medical equipment at home and practice taking deep breaths to keep the kids calm before going under anesthesia," Seiler explains. "The conversations prior to surgery also allow families to ask questions and know how the day of the surgery will play out."
The focus in the NICU tends to gear more toward the parents and families of the patients, Seiler says.
"Because the babies are so small, a lot of families either don't know how or are afraid to bond with them. We promote and encourage bonding in a way that's both comfortable for the families and beneficial to the babies' development."
Child Life Specialists also help provide developmental stimulation and support for parents and family members who can't be in the NICU as often as they'd like during the baby's stay.
"We have voice recorder books and will have families leave articles of clothing to familiarize the child with their smell," Seiler says. "We help bridge the gap when families can't be there 24 hours a day."
Child Life Specialists are available seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., in the Pediatric ED and Inpatient Unit, and during normal business hours in the Surgical Center and NICU. The specialists are available at no cost to any child receiving care. Seiler encourages families to reach out if they're interested in working with a Child Life Specialist and emphasized they're there to help.
"We wear pink, and we're easy to see," Seiler says. "Families can always ask to call for a Child Life Specialist if they're needed outside normal hours."
Learn more about the Child Life Program at GBMC.