Helping sick kids have a more positive hospital experience
By Roshan Dewani, Intern, Communications and Public Affairs
When children come to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) they typically don’t have much control over their experience. They don’t have control when it comes to things like blood work, X-rays, medication or other treatments. Children come to SickKids because of an illness or injury that they have no control over, and this can sometimes cause anxiousness and confusion.
Fortunately, SickKids has a dynamic group of experts in child development who can help children and families better understand the hospital experience and put that sense of control back into the hands of patients in small but significant ways. Child Life Specialists help promote positive hospital experiences for children and families by educating them about procedures or tests they may undergo. Child Life Specialists use play and distraction to help ease children’s discomfort and help kids gain a sense of mastery and control over their fears or anxieties surrounding hospitalization. They provide opportunities for kids to have options, like using a pinwheel or stress ball to help them manage the pain of a blood test; or choosing between watermelon or orange flavoured scents in their anesthesia mask. One of the many examples of how Child Life Specialists help promote a positive hospital experience is Child Life Week. This year’s spring-themed event offers a variety of activities and experiences for patients and their families at SickKids, including a comedy show, flower cupcake bake-off, art workshops for kids and caregivers, and the always-popular Teddy Bear Clinic.
Hosted by the Child Life Department, the ninth annual Teddy Bear Clinic took place on March 22. Through this special clinic, patients and siblings were given the opportunity to become the health-care professionals and lead their teddy bear friends through what a regular day at the hospital may be like for them.
The goal for this event is to prepare children, families and of course, their teddy bears for the experiences they might have while in hospital, as well as promote strategies to help reduce stress and anxiety before a medical or surgical procedure, treatment or hospital stay. With eight different stations set up, the young docs began their day at the clinic with a trip to the registration station, and took their cuddly friends through common clinical procedures such as MRIs, X-rays and blood work before being discharged.
“Often when children are at a hospital, things are done to them. The Teddy Bear Clinic is an example of ‘medical play’, an opportunity for kids to be active participants in medical care and to be the ones doing the medical procedures to their bears,” says Riann Horan, Child Life Specialist in the Haematology/Oncology Inpatient program. By taking on the role of medical expert, “they are not only able to feel in control, but also get a sense of what things might be anxiety provoking for them. This event is one way we can help kids understand what is happening and find new tools to help them cope better in the future.”
A new addition to the Teddy Bear Clinic and SickKids is virtual reality. Using a headset and app, patients can see a 360-degree video of clinical areas such as the operating room and X-ray room. Having the chance to see and interact with these spaces helps children psychologically prepare themselves before entering these potentially distressing spaces in real life. It also gives them the ability to ask questions before the real thing. “I think the Teddy Bear Clinic is going well so far for myself and Ms. Fluff,” says nine-year-old Sammy Pires, patient at SickKids. “The Virtual Reality headset really felt like real life, I saw everyone in the operating room, the OR hallway and even got to talk to the doctor about surgery!”
The Teddy Bear Clinic is just one of the many experiences Child Life Specialists offer for SickKids patients across the hospital to ensure they have a positive hospital experience. Thank you to all of our Child Life Specialists!