By Carly Baumann, Certified Child Life Specialist

The hospital can be a frightening place for children. Child Life Specialists help to make the hospital less scary for kids by normalizing the environment and using play and preparation to help children understand their hospital experience. We utilize distraction techniques and other non-pharmaceutical supports to help kids cope with potentially scary or painful procedures. Child Life Specialists are educated in child development and work as members of the interdisciplinary team to support positive experiences for patients and their families. Here are 10 tips for working with pediatric patients:

1. Get on Their Level: To some kids, you may seem like a giant! Getting down to their eye level makes you less intimidating.

2. Introduce and Explain: Patients and families will meet a lot of people when receiving emergency care, so it’s important that you introduce yourself. Before you do anything, explain your role, what you will do and what it will feel like.

3. Build Trust: Talking about a child’s interests and things that aren’t medically-related is a good way to build rapport with pediatric patients.

4. Normalize the Environment: New and unfamiliar environments can be very stressful for young children. Providing toys or art activities can help children feel less anxious and makes them more likely to cooperate with cares.

5. Give Appropriate Choices: If you ask a patient, “Can I take your blood pressure now?” a child can technically say “No.” They may become frustrated when you must take it anyway. Instead, give children appropriate choices such as, “Which arm would you like me to take your blood pressure on?”

6. Language Matters: Use words that a child can relate to and that have a more positive meaning.

  • Vein: tiny blue lines in your body
  • IV: tiny straw for your veins that gives your body medicine and water
  • X-ray: pictures of the inside of your body
  • Injection: quick pinch/poke to give you medicine

7. One Voice: Procedures can be very stressful for patients and families. When there are many people talking at once, it can heighten anxiety. Designate one person in the room who will talk to and calm the patient (it may be a caregiver, RN or tech). Try to minimize the volume of any additional voices in the room.

8. Comfort Holds: Having a child sit on a parent’s lap or in a bear hug can be a more comfortable and less intimidating position for procedures.

9. Distraction: Give children something else to focus on and take their attention away from a procedure.

  • Infants: soothing music, pacifier, rattles, comforting touch
  • Toddlers: Bubbles, light spinners, musical toys
  • Preschoolers: Interactive books/toys, imaginative play
  • School age: ISpy books, stress balls, games
  • Teens: deep breathing, conversation, music
  • We love bubbles! For most young kids, bubbles are a fun and non-threatening form of play. They’re also a great way to build rapport. Consider carrying a small tube of bubbles in your pocket for pediatric patients!

10. Positive Praise: Be sure to recognize a patient’s efforts and positive behavior, no matter how small. “You held really still! Nice job.”

Carly Baumann is a Child Life Specialist at American Family Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. Contact Carly to learn more about pediatric emergency care.