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Making Kids Feel Like Kids: What it’s like to be a Child Life Specialist

February 06, 2015

Most kids don’t want to step foot inside of a hospital. Luckily for the children treated at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, the Child Life staff improves the hospital experience. And for the kids being treated at the Center for Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders, Child Life Specialist Lauren Hamed and team focus on making extended stays and routine visits full of therapeutic interactions.

As part of the team caring for your child, the Child Life staff helps children understand and cope with the hospital stay. Their goal is to make hospitalization a positive and less stressful experience for all. The program is staffed by Certified Child Life Specialists, Therapeutic Recreation Specialists, Certified Music Therapists, Child Life Assistants and Healing Arts Specialists. The Specialists have degrees in child development, education, and/or therapeutic recreation along with additional training in ways to assist children and families in the medical setting. They provide play opportunities for the patients while also offering special teaching to prepare children and teens for their experiences.

The Child Life Specialist team rarely has a consistent day, as the needs of each child are taken into account and met as best as possible. Sometimes the team spends time distracting children during uncomfortable procedures or tests, or they just focus their energy towards kids who feel ‘cooped up’ inside the hospital walls.

The Child Life team understands that play is an important part of children's lives. Playing is often the way children learn about the world. And during times of stress, such as hospitalization or medical treatment, play can provide a safe and familiar outlet for a child's emotions. This helps the child cope more positively with the experience while promoting development and independence. The Child Life staff strongly encourages play in the hospital as a vital part of the recovery process.

Lauren’s favorite therapeutic tool is called “Chemo Duck.” This version of medical play focuses on kids who have a central line and undergo chemotherapy. “The kids get to do all of the things that nurses and doctors do for them when preparing for a chemo treatment,” Lauren adds. “From wearing gloves to washing the area around the port to inserting an IV line, they get to do it all, in an effort to make them more comfortable with the whole experience.”

“Seeing the smiles on their faces when they are playing is why I do it,” Lauren beams. “I am grateful to be able to make their hospital stays more enjoyable.”

For the teenage patients, Lauren enjoys focusing their individual personalities. Because it can be intimidating and overwhelming in the hospital and being treated for cancer, Lauren works to get the girls on the floor to spend time together by having them create mason jars about each other, allowing them to get to know each other in a non-intimidating way.

Child Life Specialists work with patients and families from diagnosis through end of treatment, and for those families facing end of life Child Life supports patients, families, and siblings during this portion of their journey. For example, helping patients leave their legacy.

Lauren assists patients in creating time capsules that can be a forever gift. The time capsule is developed for parents to open at a later time, especially for children with cancers with low-survival rates. It allows the children to process their diagnosis and also leave their families with something to cherish for years to come.

Working on floors where some children aren’t given the greatest prognoses could be seen as a challenge for some people, but not for Lauren. “I don’t see them as kids with cancer,” Lauren says with a smile. “I just see them as kids who want to be kids.”

Learn more about our child life program at Arnold Palmer Hospital, here.