Child Life Month highlights importance of making children comfortable during hospital stay

Metro Creative

HARLINGEN – Hospitalization can be a stressful event for anyone, but for children, a hospital stay can be especially difficult due to their age, level of understanding, degree of illness, and strength of support system.

There are, however, ways parents and healthcare providers can team up to make a child’s hospital stay easier to cope with, said Sara Robertson, child life specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.

Because children process information from the world around them differently than their adult counterparts, the way they manage the stress of hospitalization is also different, Robertson said.

“When a child experiences illness or injury it affects the normal progression of their development. For example, imagine a toddler who is gaining independence through new skills like walking and talking,” she said. “When they come to the hospital, not only are they in an unfamiliar environment, but they also have to be attached to an IV pole, may have to stay in bed, and most of their opportunities for making choices are taken away.”

Robertson said it is in coping with those changes in routine where play can serve a vital role in helping children heal and recover. Because March serves as Child Life Month, there is no better time than the present to stress the importance of maintaining a sense of normalcy during a child’s hospital stay.

“Play is adaptive. Play fills the gaps created by stress and illness. Play minimizes the limitations and enhances the natural abilities to cope and find pleasure in their surroundings,” she said. “Play provides comfort, because it’s familiar, it’s child-centered, and it’s fun. Play gives an outlet for expressing difficult emotions and creates a line of communication to establish mutual understanding. Play brings back the normalcy of childhood and reminds kids that they are safe so they can continue to grow and develop, even during this ‘bump in the road’ of their developmental journey.”

That play can take a variety of forms, Robertson said. From activities in bed to specialized rooms for younger and older pediatric patients, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen offers a number of opportunities for young patients to normalize their time in the hospital.

“At Valley Baptist, we have a playroom for infants to school age children with a variety of toys and activities to choose from including puzzles, board games, arts and crafts, blocks, pretend play, mobiles, musical instruments, action figures, playdough, bubbles, riding toys, wagons, video games, and more,” she said. “Children who are able to leave their room are encouraged to walk to the playroom and spend time playing as much as they feel up to it. This allows for socialization as well, which many children who have prolonged hospital stays miss out on. Patients who are not able to leave the room can have toys and activities brought to them.”

For older pediatric patients, hospital stays can often be even more difficult because games and activities for younger patients often are not appropriate for teenagers. Valley Baptist also offers a “teen room” equipped with couches, a television, computers, board games, magazines, a library of DVDs and more to help older pediatric patients navigate the difficulties of a hospital stay.

“This space is important because it provides motivation to get out of bed and get walking so that healing can continue,” Robertson said. “It’s separate because we recognize that teenagers process differently and often don’t want to be around young children when they’re sick. The Teen room also offers the opportunity for socialization and peer interaction which can be particularly helpful for this age group.”

But while play rooms and activities are important to a child’s recovery, Robertson said that family plays a vital role on the path to wellness.

“Family members are the consistent in kids’ lives, so they are the primary comfort and support. It’s crucial that family members are well-informed and feel empowered to do what they know is best for their child. A child may worry that they will have to stay in the hospital alone, or that they won’t be shielded from pain or discomfort. This can cause some tension, and caregivers are often afraid to give kids the truth when it’s not “happy” or “positive”, but communicating honestly and giving children reasonable expectations builds trust and allows them to more effectively rely on the caregiver,” she said.

Since 2003, the Matt & Patty Gorges Children’s Center at Valley Baptist has offered comprehensive pediatric services to the community. From pediatric emergency services offered at Cameron County’s only pediatric emergency room to specialized care at the county’s only pediatric intensive care unit, Valley Baptist-Harlingen offers services designed to allow children and infants to stay in the Valley and close to home for medical care.

The pediatrics center at Valley Baptist features 25 private rooms and 14 pediatric intensive care rooms, as well as greater access to expanded pediatric specialty care.  Children receive enhanced care in such areas as cardiology, pulmonary medicine, neurology, gastroenterology, infectious diseases, endocrinology, surgery, intensive care, oncology, immunology, and dentistry.

For more information on pediatrics services for Valley children, consult your physician or call the Matt & Patty Gorges Children’s Center at Valley Baptist at (956) 389-5493.