Mission’s Child Life team guides children and their families through the often daunting experience of major medical experiences.
By Nancy Lindell
You’ve probably seen them around if you’ve visited Mission Hospital. They’re usually wearing something purple and helping kids or providing support for families. They are our Child Life staff.
It may appear as if they are just playing with kids, but there’s a lot more going on there than meets the eye.
“This could be a child’s first big medical experience and if it’s traumatic, it can affect his or her view of getting healthcare in the future,” said Kelly Lyons, Certified Child Life Specialist.
Child Life Specialists like Lyons are experts in child development, and they promote effective coping through play, preparation, education and self-expression activities with children. They also provide emotional support for families and encourage optimum development of children facing a broad range of challenging experiences related to healthcare and hospitalization.
“If a child comes to Mission on MAMA or an ambulance, there is sometimes no family with them, so we are waiting in their room,” said Jordyn Coalson, Certified Child Life Specialist.
Coalson is the Child Life representative in the emergency department (ED) and is there to comfort children when they arrive and help relieve their stress and fears with therapeutic play and comfort holds.
“A little girl came in once after a car accident and no one was with her. She was shaking and scared and I was able to stay with her, talk to her in a soft, calming voice until her parents arrived. Her parents were so grateful when they got there that their child wasn’t alone – I was able to give them peace of mind that their child had been cared for while they weren’t there,” said Coalson.
You’ll find Child Life Specialists not only in the ED, but throughout the hospital in areas such as the NICU, PICU, Cancer Center, Asheville Surgery, Reuter’s Outpatient and Pediatrics. Mission is the only hospital in WNC to have Certified Child Life Specialists. They are certified by an international organization called the Child Life Council.
Lyons, who works at Asheville Surgery, uses her skills to help prepare both the child and their family for upcoming surgical procedures. She does preop tours with families to show them what they will see, touch, feel, taste and experience.
“When doing these tours, I can see this big difference – they know what it’s going to be like and they feel more relaxed,” said Lyons.
Before surgery, Lyons will let her patients decorate an anesthesia mask with stickers and pick out a stick of lip balm with a smell they like to put on their mask. In doing this, the child becomes familiar with it and the procedure goes much better.
Understanding that a child’s well-being depends on the support of the family, a Child Life Specialist provides information and guidance to parents, siblings and other family members. They also play a vital role in educating caregivers about the needs of a child who may be under stress from their medical condition.
“We deliver information in an age-appropriate way, giving as much medical information as possible but in their age range,” said Kelly.
Medical play with an IV or sutures on canvas dolls helps children understand their procedures and makes them much less stressful. Sometimes it’s helping a family develop a coping plan – a plan they often use for future events down the road.