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Child Life

​​​​Boys Town National Research Hospital strives to create the best care environment for our patients. Our Child Life Specialists work with the medical staff and caregivers of the patients to help alleviate fears and anxieties a child may experience during hospitalization. They identify potential sources of stress, provide accurate and age-appropriate information to the patient and family members and work with the child to plan and practice coping strategies. By combining play and education, Child Life Specialists are able to explain medical procedures and diagnoses in a way that children of all ages can understand.

What We Do

To meet the needs of our patients and families, the Boys Town Child Life team provides:

  • Therapeutic and recreational play activities to help make the hospital feel more normal
  • Medical education, preparation and sensory explanations using
    • Medical Play - using actual medical equipment the child may encounter during his/her stay to help normalize those tools for them
    • Hospital and surgery tours
    • Procedural and diagnoses teaching (IVs, NGs, EEG, Crohn’s/Colitis, etc.)
  • Planning and implementing coping strategies
    • Distraction
    • Deep Breathing
    • Non-pharmacological pain management techniques
  • Support from siblings and other family members such as special events
    • Christmas parties, birthday celebrations, car seat events

Our Child Life Specialists are professionals who have completed a Bachelor’s Degree in a child development-related field and specialize in the social, emotional and developmental aspects, as well as how to cope with a visit to the hospital.

How to Prepare Your Child for a Hospital Visit

One of the biggest questions coming from parents and caregivers is, “How can I support my child through this experience?” Each child is his/her own unique person and will respond to medical experiences in his/her own way. However, there are a few universal concerns that stand out in children at different ages. We, as Child Life Specialists, have compiled a list of ways to appropriately support your child during the hospital stay in each stage of life.

Infants (Birth-11 months)

Worries

  • Unfamiliar environment
  • Fear of strangers
  • Pain
  • Interrupted routines
  • Separation from family

Preparation

  • Prepare yourself
  • Be main source of comfort for child
  • Stick to routines
  • Bring favorite stuffed animal, pacifier, blanket

Support

  • Sing lullabies
  • Hold/rock infant
  • Stroke face, arms or legs
  • Talk in soothing tones
  • Provide comfort items
  • Provide items your infant can watch (bubbles, mobiles, mirrors, crib toys)
  • Shake rattles

Medical play

  • Let infants explore (mouthing, grasping, touching) and play with safe, real medical equipment
  • Peek-a-boo with doctor hats and masks
  • Letting your infant watch you play with medical equipment

Toddlers (12 months-3 years)

Worries

  • Anxiety (separation from family, unfamiliar environment, strangers)
  • Loss of independence
  • Pain (fear of needles and medical equipment)

Preparation

  • Read about hospitals and talk to your child one or two days prior to the visit
  • Play with doctor kits and explain things in a simple way
  • Assure child you will be with him/her as much as possible

Support

  • Blow bubbles, sing songs
  • Read books, sound books
  • Hold and comfort child
  • Provide comfort items from home

Medical play

  • Peek-a-boo with doctor hats and masks
  • Let child explore and play with appropriate medical equipment
  • Water play with syringes in bathtub

Preschoolers (4 years-5 years)

Worries

  • Pain (fear of needles and medical equipment)
  • Seeing procedures as punishment
  • Fear of bodily harm
  • Separation from family
  • Confusion about being in hospital

Preparation

  • Talk in simple words about going to the hospital a few days before visit
  • Explain the visit is to help make him/her feel better, not because of something he/she did wrong
  • Read books about going to hospital
  • Give child time to ask questions and show understanding

Support

  • Sing songs, blow bubbles
  • Read sound books
  • Watch glitter wand
  • Provide comfort items
  • Talk about some of your child’s favorite things

Medical play

  • Make medical collages with things found in hospital (bandages, gauze, tongue depressors, cotton balls, etc.)
  • Play and explore with medical equipment and dolls (painting and water play with syringes)

School Agers (6 years-12 years)

Worries

  • Loss of privacy and independence
  • Pain
  • Fear of harm to his/her body
  • Fear of death

Preparation

  • Begin discussions about hospital visit 1-2 weeks before date of visit
  • Let child pack bag for time in hospital
  • Encourage child to talk about feelings and worries to you and staff at hospital
  • Read books about going to hospital
  • Talk about what child may see and feel while in hospital. Always be honest!
  • Explain why he/she needs to go to the hospital (what the surgery or other procedures are for)

Support

  • I Spy books
  • Handheld games
  • Talk about favorite things (vacation, activity, school)
  • Practice slow, deep-breathing and relaxing
  • Listen to favorite music
  • Squeeze stress ball or hold someone’s hand

Medical play

  • Make artwork with medical materials (syringe painting)
  • Write story or poem about going to the hospital
  • Play and explore with appropriate, real medical equipment and dolls

Teenagers (13 years and older)

Worries

  • Loss of privacy and independence
  • Separation from friends
  • Body image issues

Preparation

  • Include teen in making decisions about surgery or hospital stay, when appropriate
  • Ask his/her opinion
  • Read books or articles about hospital
  • Encourage teen to think about questions and concerns and write them down

Support

  • Respect his/her privacy
  • Encourage teen to keep in touch with friends
  • Play handheld games
  • Talk with teen about school, friends, etc.
  • Practice deep, slow breathing and relaxing body
  • Squeeze stress ball or hold someone’s hand
  • Listen to favorite music or watch movies

Medical play

  • Explore and ask questions about medical equipment
  • Create artwork inspired by the hospital experience (can also use medical equipment)
  • Write songs, poems, stories about hospital

A Note to Parents

It is important to remember that your child notices your verbal and nonverbal signals. Before you begin to talk to your child about his/her upcoming medical experience, talk with your child’s doctor about your child’s condition or procedure so you are familiar with as much information as possible. The more you understand, the more time you will have to support your child and focus on his/her needs and questions.

Always remember, if you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact a Boys Town Child Life Specialist at 402‑778‑6040.

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