Child Life Specialists help children manage anxiety about being in the hospital through playtime

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Mar 7th, 2019 @ 6:28pm

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SALT LAKE CITY— Four-year-old Corbin Cox loves playing “doctor.” He suited up with medical gloves and a hair net before he gave his doll a shot.

“This will kind of hurt,” he softly warned his pretend patient. After softly wiping the doll with an alcohol pad, Corbin Cox said, “All done, little baby. Go home!”

From playing doctor to crafting with his parents, Corbin Cox knows how to make himself comfortable even when he's not at home or school — he's actually at Primary Children's Hospital.

Four-year-old Corbin Cox loves playing "doctor" with the child life specialists at Primary Children's Hospital. (Photo: KSL TV)

Intermountain Healthcare's Jordan Anderson, a Child Life Specialist at Primary Children’s Hospital, said going to the hospital for any type of visit can be overwhelming for kids.

"They're really anxious about it. It’s a whole different place they're not used to being," Anderson said.

The special playroom at Primary Children’s Hospital made a big difference when Corbin Cox visited the emergency room a couple of years ago after a horrible injury.

“He had a traumatic injury where he was bleeding significantly,” Corbin Cox’s father, Tom Cox, said. He was extremely worried for his son. “I hurried and put him in the car and brought him here."

But to Tom Cox’s relief, the Child Life Specialists brought Corbin Cox's toys to his room to help distract him and put him at ease.

This allowed the doctors and nurses to give him an assessment and evaluate his situation, “without him being anxious about all these people in the room,” Tom Cox said.

"The pain went from probably an eight down to a two,” he admitted. “(Corbin) probably even forgot about the pain."

Something we really focus on in helping them get those feelings out while they’re having them, so it’s not something that’s building up and impacting their lives.

–Jordan Anderson, Primary Children's Hopsital

Anderson said young children often have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. "So we want to give them opportunities to express their feelings about being in the hospital through play," she said.

Anderson said they also prep kids for medical procedures using real supplies. "That gives them a sense of control and makes it less scary when it actually does happen," she explained.

Child Life Specialists will also provide coping support during various procedures by reminding children to take deep breaths and explaining what is happening in terms they can understand.

Tom Cox said it was a game changer for his son and even made him feel comforted.

"It eased me a lot knowing that he was in a better mental state and able to cope with his injury," he said.

Tom Cox said the hospital is no longer a scary place for his son. “It was actually kind of fun for him. He enjoyed it,” he said. "'When do we come back? When do we get to do it again?' he kept asking."

Corbin Cox plays at the craft table with his parents and sister. (Photo: KSL TV)

Anderson said childhood stressors can last well into adulthood if not addressed the right way. “Something we really focus on in helping them get those feelings out while they’re having them, so it’s not something that’s building up and impacting their lives,” she explained.

By giving kids an outlet and allowing them to express their feelings through various types of play, Anderson said they cope much better, especially siblings to children in the hospital who are also struggling to process what their loved one is going through.

Anderson encourages parents to validate their children’s concerns by saying, "This seems really scary for you. How can we help you fix this?" rather than simply saying "It’s okay, you’re going to be fine.”


Aley Davis

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