Texas Children’s child life specialists are finding creative ways to ease a child’s anxiety before their procedures, and the specialists’ efforts recently received national attention on NBC’s Today.com.
Texas Children’s has one of the largest child life programs in the country with more than 30 professionals on staff. Child life specialists focus on the psychosocial needs of children, doing everything they can to ensure our young patients feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible during their hospital stays. For patients who come to the hospital for surgery, child life specialists help diminish fears before entering the operating room.
This starts with providing age-appropriate information to alleviate misconceptions, minimize fears and provide each child with a sense of control before they enter the unfamiliar world of the operating room (OR).
“Every child is different, and they cope best if we individualize treatment based on their developmental and psychological needs,” said Child Life Specialist Diane Kaulen.
For example, child life specialists may take young children in a red wagon on their way to an OR or give an older child the chance to see a mock-up of the OR so they can touch and play with medical supplies in a calm setting and even choose their anesthesia “flavor.”
“We use a variety of techniques, including distraction and relaxation methods and engaging in play activities to create a sense of normalcy and control,” Kaulen said. “I think the most important element in preparing a child for surgery is meeting the child where they are. Some children like to know a lot of information and some do not.”
Child Life helps children effectively manage stress, which reduces the need for potentially dangerous sedatives and pain medications and helps children heal faster with fewer long-term psychological effects.
“Most children have a set of coping skills they already draw on to help them cope effectively in difficult situations,” Kaulen said. “We’re able to evaluate potential situations that would create anxiety for that child and then develop a plan to help that child cope with those potential stressors. Parents can be a great resource for us when we individualize the plan of care.”