March is Child Life Awareness Month. As those of you who follow my blog know, child life is and will continue to be a big part of my life because it is what I will be attending graduate school for in the fall. So what exactly do child life specialists do? It’s easy to write child life specialists off as a source of entertainment for children in hospitals, but that is really just a small part of their job. I could write all day about the impact child life specialists have on the children they work with and the importance of this position in the hospital, but instead I decided to create a slideshow with a mix of songs that I feel portrays the goal of child life specialists. The bottom line is that whether you’re two or fifty-two, going to the hospital is a scary thing. You are constantly being poked and prodded by people you don’t know, hearing strange noises and listening to medical jargon that may as well be spoken in a foreign language because you won’t understand what they’re saying regardless. For children, this experience is magnified even more because they are still trying to figure out their own world and how it works. Check out the video and my explanation below:
The slideshow takes the viewer through a sequence of events beginning with a child living normally and then life changing when they are admitted to the hospital. The music tells a story of a child who is scared, angry and upset about being in this foreign place and dealing with getting “shots” and having a million strangers surrounding them all the time. The unease of the child makes it harder for the medical staff to complete procedures because they are too frustrated and confused to cooperate. Even if the child does eventually get through the traumatic experience, it is highly unlikely that this will result in a healthy mindset for the future. Enter: child life. Like adults, children need help coping with difficult events in their lives. It is more difficult for them to express themsevles with words because, for some their minds do not yet host the words capable of explaining their feelings or the capacity to do so, and so play can be an outlet to let out the complex array of emotions they are feeling. Jean Piaget said that “play is the language of childhood.” Child life specialists hold play sessions with children in which materials like paint sets, bop dolls for getting out anger, and sand and water to get messy with, are provided to the kids to express any and every emotion they are feeling at the moment. They also sift through the medical terms and diagnoses and turn them into something that a child can better grasp, which is why play therapy dolls are often used to show children what will happen to them during a procedure. By allowing the child to pretend to be the doctor and use medical equipment in non-threatening ways, the child is able to gain back some control over the situation, making them feel empowered and better able to conquer the situations that lie ahead.
The hope is that the techniques used by child life specialists as well as their open and friendly nature will help kids grow emotionally while in the hospital and change their mindsets so that the next time they see a nurse walk into a room with a needle, they don’t run away screaming but instead remember to “breathe, just breathe.”
The slideshow contains a lot of references to flying and Peter Pan and ends with a song that says, “I will fly, chase the wind and touch the sky” because to me, child life wants to see children end up better in the end for the experience. I would never say that child life specialists help the children grow their wings because in the end, it is up to the child to start the metamorphosis. The wings are their own as well as the flight. It is their journey. But, do you remember the part in Peter Pan where he tells the children his secret to flying? That’s what child life specialists are for: helping the kids find their “happy thoughts.” These can be easily misplaced while going through traumatic and stressful times in a hospital. But, once a child is able to find them again and store them in a safe place, they are ready to conquer to world. Even if they aren’t flying out of the hospital, they can still learn to rise above their circumstances. Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning!
Think of the happiest things
It’s the same as having wings
Take the path that moonbeams make
If the moon is still awake
You’ll see him wink his eye
You can fly, you can fly!
You can fly!
Advice from a child who never wanted to grow up for kids who are forced to grow up far too quickly.
HAPPY CHILD LIFE AWARENESS MONTH!
To learn more about child life please visit:
Sources for photographs in video:
http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com/2010/02/feel-better-felt-band-aids-and-toilet.html; http://www.athlebrities.com/2011/07/27/david-beckham-visits-children%E2%80%99s-hospital/;http://agirlandhertube.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-put-g-tube-into-doll.html;http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/dramatic-play-piaget/;kampungkoupusanku.blogspot.com;abcnews.go.com;http://blog.greatparentconnection.com/2011/09/20/10-tips-to-help-your-child-overcome-fears.aspx;www.speakcityheights.org;www.lehighvalleylive.com;allwomenstalk.com;www.watoday.com.au;teenshrinktalk.blogspot.com;www.swedish.org;www.dosomething.org;www.yorku.ca;www.cbc.ca;alidavies.com;htttp://www.lollipoptheaternetwork.com; www.chop.edu; www.stjudes.org; www.adventuresinchildlife.com;www.childlife.org; http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bank-Street-College-Child-Life-Program/357994780891338?fref=ts; http://www.facebook.com/#!/BostonChildrensHospital?fref=ts; http://www.facebook.com/#!/ChildLifeCouncil?fref=ts; http://www.facebook.com/#!/AllChildrensHospital?fref=ts