As children’s hospitals celebrate Child Life Month all around the world, it’s made me stop and reflect on what I do as a Child Life Specialist.
If you ask the nurses I work with, sometimes I am a teacher. Others say I carry “fairy dust” that I sprinkle over angst-ridden children to help soothe them for a procedure or help them understand a new diagnosis that they have received. Some say that I just “play” with kids, and on a good day, that’s exactly what I do.
I get many opinions. But, at the center is one word alone.
I communicate with these children. I help bridge gaps. I sometimes use words, dolls or books, and often, we just play. Many times, play becomes a gateway for me. It is a child’s language, and it is necessary for them to see I can “speak” it. That builds trust.
Whenever I communicate with the children, I invite families to join me so they can hear the words I use to tell their children information that is sometimes very sensitive. A common response I receive from families after I speak to a child is, “oh, that actually makes a lot of sense now!” It is not a kick to a parents’ intellect that it took someone putting the information on a child’s level for them to understand. But, it is sometimes a reflection of a parent being in a different state to receive the information that I am teaching. In the moment of hearing a potentially scary diagnosis for their child, coming up with rational questions or responses may not be immediately possible.
I keep those things in mind as I may be talking to a child who is scared. They may have just received frightening information or are confronting a procedure that is scary to them. They may not “hear” me when I am trying to talk and educate them in the moment. So, when I realize I’ve encountered those moments? I go back. I go back to the children afterward when they may be more receptive to understanding, and we should also do this for families. As a Child Life Specialist, I fight every day for these children who may not have the words to express fears, excitement, or goals. My methods of communication may alter between children and situations, but my goal is the same: I want them to feel empowered, heard, and respected.
As health communicators, that is a challenge I issue. Are we making information easy for people to understand? When we recognize people may be fearful or we need to relay sensitive information, are we taking steps back to be accurate and simple? It can be the difference between a lack of understanding and a sense of empowerment. Everyone wants to feel these three things: Empowered, Heard, and Respected.
Happy Child Life Month!
Lendy Chapman has been a Child Life Specialist for almost 11 years. Her career began at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, IN, where she worked as an intern, before spending 3.5 years at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX. She currently works at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, FL, and been a Child Life Specialist there for the past 7 years. At Arnold Palmer, she works in the NICU and serves as a peer facilitator in the department. She will be presenting at the 32nd Annual Conference on Professional Issues in New Orleans, LA, which is taking place May 22-25, 2014. This will be the second time she has presented at the Child Life Council’s annual conference.