Child life specialists help the youngest hospital patients cope and heal


Child Life Specialist Justine Jordan
helps Destiny Strange practice
placing an IV line in a doll to prepare for
Destiny's own IV placement.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A trip to the hospital can be a very scary experience, especially to a child.  During a hospital stay, children may be faced with stressful and traumatic situations that could overwhelm their ability to cope and heal. 

Children process information much differently than adults, and therefore have distinct needs in managing the effects of stress and trauma. With the help of a child life specialist, pediatric patients and their families at Niswonger Children's Hospital receive the help they need to overcome some of life's most challenging moments.   Child life specialists are experts in child development, who promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. 

 "Play is a child's work," said Marinda McConnell, the child life program manager at Niswonger Children's Hospital. "A lot of times, our child life program can help children work through their feelings and emotions about what's happening to them.

"We help children when they come to the hospital to understand the procedures they're going to be having and to know what is going on with their bodies in a way that's not threatening to them."

 Focusing on the psychosocial needs of children and collaborating with parents and other members of the hospital team, child life specialists aim to:

  • Ease a child's fear and anxiety;
  • Encourage understanding and cooperation;
  • Engage and energize children and families by coordinating special events, entertainment, and activities;
  • Consider the needs of siblings or other children who may also be affected by a child's illness or trauma;
  • Provide support for the patients and their families; and
  • Provide education and resources.

Child life specialists help children to effectively manage stress and to heal faster. Children may experience emotions such as fear, shame, confusion and loneliness when staying in the hospital, and these feelings can inhibit their natural development. Child life specialists provide emotional support for families, and encourage optimum development of children facing a difficult situation.

"We want to make sure that children have the opportunity for growth and development that they would normally have if they were not in the hospital," said McConnell.

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