How Child Life Specialists Help Kids at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Child Life specialists are among the many specialized care team members at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles working with children when they are in the hospital. They work in many departments with patients who are admitted into the hospital or visiting for a one-day surgery or procedure. For this blog post, I worked with two of the Child Life specialists on my floor as well the head of their department, Scott Ferguson, MSW, LCSW, ACM, administrator, Family-Centered Care Support Services, to learn more about their team and what they do for patients and families at the hospital.
How Child Life Specialists Help Patients and Families
Child Life specialists help kids cope through the hospitalization process and the stress and uncertainty that it can cause. They empower parents and caregivers to help their children by showing them better ways to cope and lessen their own stress and anxiety. The specialists work as a team, which is part of the hospital’s approach to family-centered care. Since Child Life specialists are educated experts in child development and the family unit, they are able to make decisions about how best to help each child and their family through stressful situations. Their typical day may include:
- Preparing kids for medical procedures
- Help with coping to reduce nervousness, worry and anxiety
- Providing a distraction during procedures
- Offering play activities to encourage normal development and fun
- Offering self-expressive creative activities
- Working with families to give them ways to cope
To do these things they use general age-appropriate toys, games, picture books and one-on-one communication with the children and families. They also have specialized medical play kits with hospital-related toys such as stethoscopes, syringes and bandages so that kids can play with them to become familiar with the items they may see every day in the hospital. This helps make it less scary and helps kids work through their own nervousness about the hospital or a procedure.
Playrooms at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
We have playrooms where kids can go to just be kids. Anyone from infant to young adult can go to the playrooms if they are medically cleared for it.
Playrooms are a fun, interactive and “safe space” where activities take place and no painful procedures are allowed. There are toys, books and games for all ages in each playroom. A Child Life specialist is there to supervise. For adolescents, their playroom is more appropriately called the “teen lounge.” In the teen lounge, there are video games, computers and books and the kids can socialize with other teens and take time away from the stresses of the hospital.
How You Can Help
Since we are in the holiday season, I asked the Child Life specialists for suggestions of age appropriate gifts that are fun, help stimulate mental and physical development and encourage healthy living. Here are some of their suggestions:
Infant—up to 1 year: Push-pull toys, musical toys, touchy-feely toys to encourage sensory development and improve gross motor skills (arm and hand movement and coordination).
Toddler—up to 2 years: Books with brief stories and big pictures, balls to roll and catch, toys that promote fine motor skills (hand and finger movement and coordination).
Preschool—3-5 years: Toys that build and encourage imagination like puzzles, building sets, dress up clothes, simple board games, balls to run and catch.
School-age—5-12 years: More advanced board games, art supplies, books, jump ropes, soccer balls, baseball mitts with baseballs.
Adolescents—12-18 years: Video sports games, scrapbooking supplies, journals, handheld electronic sports and exercise games, video dancing games, hula hoops, auto racing games, baseballs, baseball bats, baseball mitts, footballs, basketballs with hoops, arts and crafts and healthy cookbooks.
If your child is coming to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for an outpatient visit, you can request a Child Life specialist to prepare your child and/or help them through it. They are a valuable part of the team caring for your child in the hospital. Every day they help many kids at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, by making the hospital visit less scary and helping kids feel like kids instead of patients.
For more information about child life specialists and how to become one, visit ChildLife.org.