Jun 23

Medical Language vs. Child and Family-Friendly Language

Explaining the medical environment and medical procedures to children and teenagers can feel very challenging for families, as well as medical professionals.  With medical professionals immersed in the medical environment, the language becomes normal everyday language for them.  However, children and families are receiving new information that is often difficult to understand and process.  One mom described it best when she said to her school-aged son, “They speak a different language don’t they.”

How can we communicate medical information with children and families in a way that is easy to understand and helps to reduce fear and anxiety?  Try making these small, but extremely effective changes in how you explain common medical information.

Common Medical Language: IV
Child/Family Friendly Language: Small plastic tube or medicine straw to give you medicine while you are at the hospital

Common Medical Language: Stitches
Child/Family Friendly Language: String Band-Aids

Common Medical Language: Leads
Child/Family Friendly Language: Stickers that go on your chest to monitor your heart rate (for young kids: your heart beat)

Common Medical Language: Tourniquet
Child/Family Friendly Language: A rubber band that goes around your arm to help your veins (for young kids: your blue/green lines called veins) to show up better

Common Medical Language: Need to stick you
Child/Family Friendly Language: Need to check your blood or place an IV straw

Common Medical Language: Give you drugs
Child/Family Friendly Language: Give you medicine

Common Medical Language: It’s going to sting or feel like a bee sting
Child/Family Friendly Language: This may feel warm and tingly

Common Medical Language: Give you a shot
Child/Family Friendly Language: Give you medicine under your skin

Common Medical Language: Incision or cut you open
Child/Family Friendly Language: The doctor will make a small opening to help your body and then close it

Common Medical Language: Put you to sleep
Child/Family Friendly Language: Give you medicine to keep you asleep so you don’t feel anything or remember anything when the doctor helps your body.

As you use these child and family-friendly words and phrases you will begin to see the positive impact they have.  Consider what other medical words and phrases you can adjust to be softer and more supportive for children and families.

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Sep 09

Helping Kids Cope in the Emergency Department

Ever wonder what a child life specialist does?  Wish you could see it in action?  Watch this short video from All Children’s Hospital from YouTube to learn a little more about child life specialists and how they support children, teens, and families in the Emergency Department.  A child life specialist named Courtney, uses a teddy bear to help a young child learn about the IV he is going to get and she talks with him about the open heart surgery he had.  See how she uses the stuffed animal to learn more about the young child’s experiences and fears.  You can use this same technique with your child!

Child Life Specialists can be found in a variety of units and departments that provide medical services for pediatric patients within the hospital.  Radiology, Day Surgery, Pediatric Units, Intensive Care Units, and Outpatient Clinics are just a few places you could find a child life specialist.  Be sure to ask your doctor or nurse if they have a child life specialist available to work with you and your family, the next time your child needs medical treatment!

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Jun 04

Scared of the Doctor and Dentist? 5 Steps to a Positive Experience

Is your child scared of the doctor or dentist? Does it feel like a battle every time they have an appointment?

If you’re like most parents, you have tried to show them they don’t need to be scared and you’ve tried to help them understand the doctor and dentist are there to help.

Sometimes parents are able to pinpoint a specific situation that occurred that may have caused the fear and other times they are at a loss for why their child is expressing fear.

Use the following five steps to learn more about your child’s fears and how to help them have positive medical experiences.

Step 1: Think back to your child’s previous medical experiences. Is there anything that stands out in your mind that could be causing their fear?

Step 2: If your child is old enough to express their thoughts and feelings, ask them to tell you about why they don’t like to go to the doctor or dentist.  Try to see their thoughts and feelings through their eyes and perspective; rather than an adult perspective.

Step 3: Listen to their fears and concerns and validate them, by saying things like “that must have been hard for you” or “it sounds like you didn’t like that”. Try not to reassure them there is nothing to fear right away, first hear the child out, validate their feelings, then develop a plan and reassure them. Think of it this way, when you express a concern to someone and they immediately tell you “you’ll be fine” or “don’t worry”, that doesn’t comfort you, because you still feel the way you feel. Kids and teens feel the same way!

Step 4: Come up with a plan and get creative. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

Encourage medical play.
·Buy a medical play kit; as you watch your child play with it, see if you can observe any of their fears or misunderstandings through their play.
·After observing for a while, participate in the medical play with your child, then gently guide and correct any misconceptions and fears they express.
·You can even use items from home to play with such as, toothbrushes, dolls, stuffed animals, and safe medical items like a thermometer, gauze, or Band-Aids.

Take a tour or arrange a visit to the doctor or dentist when your child doesn’t have an appointment.  
· This way they are just exploring the place and not having anything done to them.
· If your child is younger, they could play in the waiting room for a couple minutes, walk with you to say hi to the doctor, dentist, or other staff they will interact with during their visit.
· If they are older, they can say hi to the doctor and learn about what to expect when they come in for their appointment.
· Teens can also benefit taking tours and learning about what to expect before their appointment.

Step 5: Make it a fun and positive experience, so your child begins to learn and relate more to the positive experiences over time, and focus less on negative feelings or experiences they previously had.  Bring toys and activities with you to help pass the time, consider rewarding your child with a prize for good behavior or being brave, and encourage them to bring favorite comfort items like a blanket or a stuffed animal. 

You may be surprised just how big of a difference these tips can make in how your child responds to going to the doctor or dentist!  Just remember to stay calm, be patient, and know you can help your child and make a positive difference in their relationship with their doctor and dentist.  

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May 14

Donating Toys Brings Smiles and Calms Fears

Are you looking for a way to give back to your community and want to make a difference in a unique way? Consider donating to a Child Life Program in your area!

You can contact the Child Life Program at your local hospital to learn about what their needs are and help them support children and families by collecting the things they need or by donating the funding for them to purchase items. When children and families go to the hospital, as I am sure you have experienced, that last thing you are thinking, is to bring toys and activities with you! Parents and kids are under stress and are just trying to get to the hospital quickly.

When kids are able to play in the hospital they are able to have fun, learn, and cope better with the experiences they are having. They feel more comfortable in the environment they are in, which helps them to feel less stressed and anxious. Ultimately, this helps parents to be less stressed and anxious too!

You can be a part of helping them have better hospital experience! Keep in mind kids and teenagers both benefit from your donations, so don’t forget about the activities for older kids! Most hospitals will require donated items to be new and do not have any cloth material on them due to infection control policies. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what you might want to donate:

*Infant toys- mobiles, rattles, light up toys, musical toys

*Toddler toys- light up toys, musical toys, medical play kits, stuffed animals

*Preschool toys- bubbles, animals, people figures, action figures, cars, dolls, pretend play sets, books, stickers, board games, medical play kits, arts and crafts supplies, stuffed animals

*School age toys- books, Nerf balls, board games, arts and crafts supplies, stickers, stuffed animals, hand held games, card games, movies

*Teenagers- video game systems and games, sports balls, nail polish, books, stationary, board games, card games, movies

I can tell you first hand, I have seen the joy play brings for children and their families in the medical environment. A crying child, scared of the hospital often stops at the sight of toys or bubbles. A parent breathes a sign of relief to see their child relax and engage in play with other kids. A child makes a card or picture for their parent who is in the hospital. What a big difference, even a small donation can make!

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Apr 08

Kids Thoughts About Hospitals

I had to share this video on the homepage and blog!  Ask Child Life is not affiliated or associated with this hospital in any way, I just like the video!  I can’t help but smile when I hear kids sharing their thoughts and ideas about hospitalization and medical care.

As cute as this video is, it really hits home the fact that kids process information differently depending on their age and their development.  It is so important to not assume a child understands a common word or expression used regarding their medical care.  We as caregivers and parents need to try to think about things from the perspective of the child, and ask what they think something means.  This way we know for sure what they are thinking and we can avoid any unnecessary stress over misconceptions!

Be sure to check out this additional post about How Kids and Teens Think, for more information and tips about how kids process medical information.

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Mar 20

Are you adding more stress for yourself?

Having a child in the hospital or going to the hospital for medical treatment is stressful enough!  Don’t add more stress for yourself!  Here are some ways to prevent and reduce unnecessary additional stress.

Eat something.  Parents often wait to eat if their child can’t eat.  Although this is a nice gesture, your child needs you at your best.  If you are tired and hungry, you will likely be more irritable and distracted.  By eating something, you are nourishing your body which helps you to feel better, be more energized, and be able to focus easier on your child’s needs and the information shared by the medical staff.

Communicate with family and friends easier. Ever play the telephone game?  One person shares a story and then it gets passed down from person to person.  If you have, you know that by the time the story gets to the last person, it is a very different version of the original story.  While fun to play, this can be extremely stressful when it is done with serious information.  Instead, utilize a social site like Facebook or CarePages to update family and friends about important information.  This way they hear the information straight from you and you don’t have to spend all day on the phone updating people and answering the same questions over and over!

Take a walk.  Being confined to a small space for hours or days can make a person go crazy!  If your child is able to get up and move around the hospital or unit, take a field trip out of the room.  If they have to stay in their room, find a good time to step out of the room yourself for a couple minutes.  I know you don’t want to leave your child’s side and that is exactly why you need to take just a couple minutes to get a breath of fresh air, grab a coffee, or even walk to the end of the hall and back.  It will actually help to rejuvenate you, which allows you to come back with a little more energy and a clearer mind, so you can maximize the time you are spending with your child!

Use your imagination to relax.  It can be difficult to find space or time to relax when in the hospital.  Try taking a mental vacation by closing your eyes, breath in and out slowly, and imagine you are at the beach or at a favorite place of yours.  Use all your senses to imagine what the sand feels like under your toes, the temperature of the water splashing onto your ankles, the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze you feel in your hair.  Do you hear birds?  Can you see the waves gently crashing into the shore?

Put your oxygen mask on first.  In case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first and then assist those around you.  You’ve heard the flight attendants say this on airplanes, and it applies to being in the hospital too.  If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you are not going to be available physically, emotionally, or mentally for your child and other family members the way you could be.  So, put your oxygen mask on and be there for your child and family the way you want to be!

What are some things you do to prevent and reduce stress when you have a loved one in the hospital or receiving medical treatment?

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Mar 07

Child Life Specialists: A Sneak Peak Into Helping Children Cope

The trauma bay in the Emergency Department is full of staff ready to help a child who was in a car crash.  A child life specialist is at the child’s side explaining step by step what is happening, using words the child understands…

A family member is on life support and the family doesn’t know if they should bring the children to the hospital to say goodbye.  A child life specialist provides support and guidance for the family and their children…

Tears begin to stream down a child’s face because she is scared the procedure will hurt.  A child life specialist is at the child and parents side helping them cope and encouraging the child to find pictures in an ISpy book with her family throughout her procedure…

A mother has just been diagnosed with cancer and she doesn’t know how to tell her kids.  A child life specialist listens to the mother and helps her find ways to explain it to her children…

Clinging to his father, a little boy is scared to walk around his hospital room.  A child life specialist brings the child toys and activities to play with in his room to help him feel more comfortable and have fun…

The goal of a child life specialist is to try to reduce fear, anxiety, and misconceptions for children and their families.  As you can see from these brief descriptions, working as a child life specialist is an amazing job that is full of surprises, challenges, and joys. A big thank you to all the child life specialists out there devoted to supporting children and families!  Happy Child Life Month!

Please share how a child life specialist has provided support for you and your family.

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Feb 28

My baby needs a procedure.

Parents often feel like they don’t have much control in their child’s medical treatment.  They want to have an active role in their child’s care; and sometimes they don’t know how to get it because they have to rely on the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff to help care for their child’s medical needs.  Parents have a lot to offer their child and the medical team! 

You know your child best and you know how to comfort your child best.  Babies need to feel a sense of security and you are just that for your child!  Parents are allowed and encouraged to be present during many procedures a child may have.  So, if your baby is having a procedure that you can be present for, here are some ideas for how you can help your baby during that procedure: 

Remain calm– Babies can feel tension in your body when you are stressed, so the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your baby will be.

Hold your baby in your arms or lap, if possible– Some procedures may require your baby to lay down, so be sure to discuss with your medical team what position you all think, is best for the baby to be in during the procedure. 

Swaddling- Having boundaries, such as a blanket wrapped around your baby can be comforting, especially for young infants.  This gives them something to push against when they move their arms and legs and reminds them of the safety and boundaries from being in the womb.

Sucking on a pacifier– Sucking is a natural way for a babies to soothe themselves.

Music– Playing music softly in the room can be soothing, as well as humming or singing to your baby. 

Have a quiet room– Soft, quiet, soothing voices will help to calm your baby and it reduces the chance of the baby getting over stimulated and upset from multiple voices during a procedure.

Use a distraction toy– For older babies, try blowing bubbles, push or help your baby push buttons on a light up or musical toy, or try getting their focus on a difference interactive toy. 

Soothing touch– Don’t be afraid to touch your baby during the procedure.  A gentle touch from you can be very soothing and calming for your little one, as well as reassuring and comforting for you!

It is likely your baby will still cry during the procedure because that is how they naturally express themselves.  This does not mean that your singing, distraction, or soothing didn’t work; it just means your baby is normal!  Remember your job is to try to soothe and comfort your child, so the key is to stay calm and focused on your child.

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Feb 19

A Mother’s Death and a Father’s Fears

A sad, tired, and confused man sat at the table across from me.  “How am I going to tell my 3 year old daughter?” he asked.

“Should I bring her to see her mother?”
“If so, when should I bring her?”
“I want her to be able to say goodbye.”
“What should I do?”

All of these questions and thoughts just kept coming, as he shared his struggles out loud.  My heart ached for this man, whose wife was about to be taken off of life support.  We spent some time discussing ways to explain death to his three year old daughter and techniques to explain it to her as she gets a little older.  We came up with some ideas to support his daughter over the next few days and as their family moves forward.

At one point, he said, “I don’t want her to be a nerd because I don’t know how to dress her.  Her mother was always so good at that”.  It was a comment that touched my heart.  This was a dad wanting the best for his daughter; and he was suddenly discovering new challenges and experiencing fears of the unknown.

Ultimately this fear wasn’t just about dressing his child, although he was relieved to know stores often sell matching sets and outfits for younger children.  This man’s world had just been turned upside down and he was trying to figure out, in his mind, how to fill the roles of both mom and dad.  He feared he would fall short of providing everything his daughter needed and deserved.  To him, this felt like an overwhelming responsibility; a common feeling for a parent in this situation. It took a little while, but eventually he began to realize that he didn’t need to play both roles of mom and dad to be a good parent.  He needed to be the really great dad that he already was for his daughter.

It was an honor to sit with this father, listen to his thoughts, and provide guidance as he worked through how to support his daughter.  I admire this father for his strength and his focus on caring for his child during such a challenging time in his life.

This family truly touched my heart; and I hope his story will touch your heart and help you to find strength when you need it most.

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Feb 11

“You will be put to sleep.”

When preschool and school age children need to have surgery and they hear the words “put you to sleep”, they often think of this phrase in terms of a pet being put to sleep.  This is how they have heard this phrase used before, so that is what they associate it with.  This can cause fears about not waking up from the anesthesia medicine, as well as fears about death during surgery.

Children and teenagers go off to sleep by receiving anesthesia medicine through a mask or through an IV.  Usually younger children use a mask and older children and teens get their medicine through an IV.  This is not always the case, so it is important to talk with your anesthesiologist and come up with a plan together, about what will be best for your child.  Here are some ideas for explaining how the medicine works and how your child will get the medicine.  You will notice, the older your child is the more information you can give.

For Younger Children:
Mask The doctor will give you some medicine air, so you will have a special medicine sleep and you won’t feel anything when the doctor is helping your body.

IV The doctor will give you some medicine though a little straw in your hand/arm, so you will have a special medicine sleep and you won’t feel anything when the doctor is helping your body.

For Older Children:
Mask- The doctor will give you some medicine air, called anesthesia, through a mask.  The medicine makes it so you have a special medicine sleep and you don’t feel or remember anything when the doctor is helping your body.

IV- The doctor will give you some medicine, called anesthesia, through a little straw in your hand/arm.  The medicine makes it so you have a special medicine sleep and you don’t feel or remember anything when the doctor is helping your body.

For Teens:
Mask- The doctor will give you some medicine called anesthesia.  This is medicine that you breathe through a mask.  This medicine makes your whole body go off to sleep, so you don’t feel or remember anything when the doctor is helping your body.

IV- The doctor will give you some medicine, called anesthesia, through an IV straw in your hand/arm.  This medicine makes your whole body go off to sleep, so you don’t feel or remember anything when the doctor is helping your body.

For younger children especially, but even for an older child or teen, it is important for you to explain they will be asleep because of the medicine the doctor gives them.  It is common to hear people explain anesthesia by saying it is like taking a nap.  However, if your child still takes naps, they could become fearful of taking naps because when they took a nap (had surgery), they woke up in pain.  Using the phrase “medicine sleep” can help your child understand their naps and nighttime sleep are different from the sleep they get from the doctor.

Teens also benefit from understanding they will be asleep because of the medicine they will be given.  They often worry about if they will wake up during their surgery and how they will wake up after the surgery is done.  If teens knows they are asleep because of the medicine given, it is easier for them to understand that when the doctor stops giving the medicine, after the surgery is done, they will start to wake up again.

As a side note, I used the word doctor to describe the person who gives and stops giving the anesthesia medicine; however the anesthesiologist, who is the doctor, often works as a team with a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).  Depending on your state and hospital regulations, either of these two professionals can give the anesthesia medication.

If your child has had anesthesia before, did they get it by mask or IV?

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