Add a dash of colour and fun, and make unusual things seem less strange, and you can make a child's hospital stay feel more normal and less daunting. Child life therapy, also sometimes called play therapy, does just that through supporting children's needs using play, preparation and individualised refocusing strategies, and building resilience and coping skills.
Play that supports your child
Child Life Therapists can support your child's needs in a variety of ways including:
Encouraging their development, independence and resilience
Providing a positive experience and allowing feelings to be shared with empathy and understanding
Helping them to understand what is happening so it is less threatening
Relieving stress and anxiety
Helping patients and families prepare for procedures and promoting compliance
Creating a feeling of 'normal' in the clinical environment
Helping them become familiar with medical equipment
Providing opportunities for debriefing, self expression, and self esteem building
Developing a sense of control and empowerment through play
Escape to play spaces
Step into a play space and let the fun begin. Special areas are located throughout the hospital, called play spaces, and what makes them special is they are treatment free zones. Patients, siblings and visitors are welcome to play in these safe places.
You can find them both indoors and outdoors, on some of the hospital wards, in Bear Cottage, sensory rooms, and playgrounds. These play spaces have guidelines to follow to ensure the safety of all children.
Set sail on a pirate ship in the George Gregan playground just outside the hospital's main entrance. The large wooden boat, replete with a slippery slide and portals to look through, has a storybook quality that allows children's imaginations to run wild. Surrounding the ship is a tall, white lighthouse to explore and detailed sculpures of fantastic creatures including a whale, walrus, crocodile, tortoises and an enormous octopus with curled tenticles resting on the grass. All children can access this playground as it has been designed for all ability levels and to accomodate wheelchairs and children with IV drips.
How we can help
Child life therapists can help your child in many ways which include:
Procedure education which is the child-friendly explanation of any medical procedure. Toys, books and pictures can be used to help prepare a child such as during and after MRIs or cannula insertions.
Re-focusing strategies to distract or refocus a child's attention using various resources and techniques including books, iPads, relaxation and imagery to provide a strong positive focus.
Medical play which gives children and their families the opportunity to explore, familiarise and gain an understanding of medical equipment. It may include doctor dress ups, doll making, medical equipment collages or syringe paintings.
Theraputic and developmental play to normalise the healthcare environment for patients and siblings. It provides choice, promotes positive experiences, and allows continuity towards developmental milestones.
How you can help your child
The following tips may help your child during their hospital experience.
Bring familiar items from home, such as a favourite book, music, toy, pillow slip or blanket that may comfort your child or young person.
Be honest with your child about their upcoming visit. This can also help build trust with their healthcare team.
Practice relaxation techniques with your child. These may include breathing exercises or controlled counting.
Praise efforts and give encouragement for positive behaviours with verbal compliments or rewards.
Encourage your child to engage in play while in hospital.
Offer choices, when appropriate, to help them feel empowered. For example: offering medication in a syringe or spoon.
Refocus their attention through the use of distraction such as iPad games, breathing techniques or I spy activities during procedures or treatment.
Avoid negative descriptions such as 'scary' as the child may not be thinking it is scary. Let them guide the discussions around how they are feeling, then validate the specific feeling they have as being ok and understandable.
You'll find Child Life Therapy on Level 2, The Children's Hospital at Westmead.