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Putting your child's comfort first

Visiting the hospital can be a scary and stressful time for children and their loved ones, but professionals at Shannon have implemented techniques to help remove some of the fear and anxiety young patients may experience.

Drawing from passion and her experiences in the hospital as a child, Elizabeth Bailey, RN, BSN, NPD-BC, CCLS, Child Life Specialist at Shannon Medical Center, has spent years spearheading the implementation of Child Life practices at Shannon.

"A child's well-being often depends upon the support of their family and caregivers," says Bailey. "Therefore, we are working to empower our staff and parents of patients with knowledge of how to best help our younger patients. Our ultimate goal is to improve the support we provide for the children and their families throughout their health care experience."

Helping kids heal

The Child Life Program at Shannon Medical Center assists infants, children, youth and their families in coping with the stress of the health care setting, trauma and illness. It facilitates healing and coping while reducing fear, anxiety and pain through developmentally appropriate interventions, such as education, preparation, play and psycho-social support. The Child Life specialist collaborates with health care staff providing education, process development and support to facilitate a health care environment that fosters healthy physical and emotional development and places emphasis on respecting the family system and decreasing suffering for those seeking care.

Bailey has continuously worked with numerous professionals to emulate these practices at Shannon. Practices and techniques based on the program include distraction methods, the importance of play, educating family members prior to procedures, and teaching staff and family members how to view everything from a child's perspective.

Involving parents

"It is recommended that parents are involved in their child's procedure," Bailey says. "Obviously they cannot be present in the operating room, but it's important to keep them involved and educated throughout the other aspects of their child's care."

For example, a parent may sing or read to their child during a procedure. Or the child's favorite cartoon might be played in order to provide a distraction from the procedure and establish a sense of normalcy within the clinical setting. Bailey stresses that play is especially important because it helps reduce anxiety.

Teaching dolls, a stuffed bone and a stuffed vein are other tools used to educate children and their families about their diagnosis or procedure. Teaching dolls may be used for children with diabetes or chemotherapy ports. The stuffed bone and vein help explain diagnoses with cartoon characters of the blood cells and various diseases.

Providing a safe environment

"The most important piece we need to remember is that children process information differently than adults," Bailey says. "If you tell them it's the last time they will receive a shot today, and then they require another one, it's more upsetting to them than an adult. Therefore, we want to provide education to our staff and the parents on an age-appropriate level."

Bailey and other trained specialists use a variety of techniques and acts of kindness to provide a safe environment for the children needing care. Of the many examples, one of the most effective and helpful is the blank cloth dolls made by volunteer Linda Smith. These are given to kids to decorate however they would like. The dolls give them the opportunity to participate in medical play, such as taking the doll's temperature and blood pressure, to desensitize them to their own medical endeavors. For certain procedures, the children are allowed to take their dolls with them into the operating room to decrease their stress levels.

Focus is placed not only in the pediatrics unit, but in other areas of the hospital where children are treated. Bailey works with professionals in these areas to see what types of distraction, support items, pain management and play items would be beneficial.

"You have to understand the holistic approach to healing—the spirit, emotions, mind and body are all connected, and you have to treat all of that to become a healthy, whole human being to reach your potential," Bailey says. "These practices address all of those essential areas. Not just for children, but for their parents and siblings as well."

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