March is celebrated annually as Child Life Month; in recognition, we are celebrating Child Life professionals, who are important to the child’s health and happiness, and the child’s family. These individuals work in a pediatric environment to support children and their families while minimizing stress and trauma during medical events. The initial distress of illness and injury, along with unfamiliar faces and surroundings during a hospital stay, can cause children to feel anxious, isolated, and uncomfortable. Child Life Specialists recognize the emotional and developmental needs of children and their families throughout their healthcare experience, using their knowledge and experience to help the entire family through special programs and activities, so that they can maintain a sense of normalcy during their medical care.
Research confirms that children who experience frequent hospitalizations due to chronic conditions are at increased risk of:
- Sleep disruptions
- Nutritional issues
- Depression and social isolation
- Psychosomatic disorders
- Pathological dependence on the mother
- Night time urination accidents
- Potential regression to finger sucking
These issues are further compounded by staff shortages, and limited, if any, specialized Child Life training for pediatric nurses. Research has shown that children who are prepared for medical procedures experience less anxiety, because education helps to conquer the fear of the unknown. It has also been found that children who engage in play throughout treatment experience less pain, fewer negative physical effects, and adjust more easily to their situation.
A nurse trained in Child Life can give the family support help to reduce overall anxiety, leading to a more positive outcome to treatment. Child Life Specialists are Registered Nurses with a strong background in child development and family systems who
- Are trained in human development, psychology, and education
- Assist pediatric patients by engaging them in imaginative and creative play activities
- Simultaneously provide age-appropriate education about their unique situation and what to expect as they face a specific health challenge
Many Child Life programs also provide information on tutoring services if an extended or recurrent hospital stay is expected. Our nationally recognized School Intervention & Re-Entry Program can also help students with cancer and blood disorders transition back to school, addressing the wide range of concerns of students, teachers and other classmates.
By preparing the child and their family for their medical care experience, and by advocating for them throughout the process, Child Life Specialists can ease the physical and mental strain a hospital experience has on a child. To learn more about Child Life Month, visit www.ChildLife.org/.
“Celebrating Child Life Month,” Encourage Kids Foundation, March 7, 2016.
“March is Child Life Month,” Teammates for Kids, March 2013
Proceedings of the 5th Scientific Meeting of Pediatricians, East Macedonia, Thrace region, Aegean Islands, Cyprus, 1‐ September, Samos.
Webster, Hannah, “7 Facts About Child Life Specialists,” U.S. News and World Report, July 7, 2014
“What Every Parent Should Know About Our Child Life Services,” Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, 2017.