Specialists work with children to help make hospital visits seem less scary

Specialists help young children cope with Doctor and hospital visits
Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 6:21 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Heading to the hospital as a young child can be scary and even traumatic for some, but some kids who make routine health care visits can work with specialists to help ease that stress.

Trips to the doctor are a little easier with these Child Life Specialists at Novant Health, New Hanover Regional Medical Center. This can be something as small as calming a child when getting a shot or educating them before a procedure.

“We help children and families during their medical experiences. So we might help a child with a procedure and might also help a sibling of a patient who’s trying to figure out what’s going on with all these doctors appointments and why the brother isn’t home and that kind of stuff,” said Michele Erich, music therapist and child life specialist at Novant Health. “Things are very different because of COVID but we’re still connecting with all of the families the best we can. We use music; we use play; we use art; we use all different kinds of techniques to engage the children, to help them to begin to understand, to help them cooperate with their procedures and treatments, and to tolerate them and develop coping skills and learn about what’s happening, and find a way to get through it.”

A big part of calming a child’s anxiety when in a healthcare setting is to give them a chance to learn about what’s happening and what tools might be used.

“I work in radiology, so a lot of them are radiology scans. I might take a play model which is just a toy model of the machinery, or we might set up a game beside the scan room that might be like a scavenger hunt or something of the like. That way, that just presents them the equipment we are going to use in a less threatening way,” said Alicia Cesare, child life specialist with Novant Health.

Cesare says the child might not always be the one there to see the doctor or for treatment, but instead a parent or loved one. That’s where this education comes into play — letting the young child know why someone is in the hospital, whether it was a planned procedure or emergency, and talking them through the steps that person will go through.

“I might use song writing with the child to help them write a song and sing a song about what’s happening,” Erich said.

In the end, both Erich and Cesare hope these coping skills stick with these kids as they grow up.

“Our end goal is that when we grow up and become adults that we’re not afraid to seek help from healthcare providers when we need it,” said Cesare. “We want to instill confidence about that in the next generation and we want all of our community members to grow up happy and healthy and just live their lives how they want to.”

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