Creating a Comforting Environment For Kids
Hint: It involves toys, family & honesty.
By Dr. Laura Hufford, McFarland Clinic Pediatric Hospitalist
Having your child admitted to the hospital can be a frightening experience for both parents and children. However, there are several things that can be done to make the hospital visit more comfortable and to aid in the healing process.
The environment of the hospital is completely foreign to children. Beds seem large and the bedding can feel more like that of a hotel than their own room. Because the child will be spending so much time in these unfamiliar beds while in the hospital, it’s important to make him or her feel as safe and comfortable as possible.
Painful procedures should be done outside of the patient room in a space designated specifically for procedures. This way the child does not associate the pain or scary experience with the space they are to be healing in, their room.
Families should feel comfortable bringing in the child's own pillow as well as favorite blankets and stuffed animals. If the child sleeps with a nightlight or listens to music or white noise at night, bring them from home!
Once the room and bed feel more like home, they can begin to heal.
Distracting from Fear, Pain
Unfortunately, painful procedures such as IV placements and blood draws must take place sometimes to allow for healing. I find that during these painful times one of the most powerful tools to counteract the fear and pain is distraction.
While I am generally an advocate for limiting the amount of television and screen time in the lives of youth, the hospital is a special situation. I think it is appropriate to utilize the electronic devices to help distract children from pain. For instance, one of the procedure rooms on the Pediatric Unit has an iPad that is used to play music or videos appropriate for the child during potentially painful procedures.
The room also has artwork created by local high school students painted on the ceiling. This too serves as an interesting focal point for the child who may be trying to avoid the fear of the procedure.
Toys from Home
Favorite toys should also be brought into the hospital. Toys that are appropriate are those which can be played with while sitting in a chair or lying in bed. Legos, cars, Play-dough or modeling clay, and coloring or drawing supplies are all excellent things to provide the child. These allow for some creative play but also do not require a lot of physical activity. Some older children have told me they do their best artistic work while healing!
Finally, the most important thing the child can have to comfort them while he or she is hospitalized are friends and family supporting them while they are there. Sometimes people are afraid to be around the child because they do not want the child to see how frightened and worried they are about them. I find that children are incredibly intuitive about their illnesses, much more so than we often give them credit for.
Children who are hospitalized know they are sick. Many of them are unsure if they will get better and some of them worry they will die. I believe it is important to allow children to see adults express their emotions and discuss what the medical team is doing to help make them better.
The child's pediatrician will help guide some of these conversations, but ultimately the child will likely be most comfortable discussing how they will get better with a friend or family member with whom they are close. The discussions do not need to be long but should be done.
PALS Saves Lives
Mary Greeley staff who provide direct acute care to pediatric patients are required to get Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) certification.
Approximately 50 nurses at Mary Greeley have this certification, as do most paramedics. PALS helps pediatric healthcare providers develop the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate and manage seriously ill children and infants, particularly in emergencies involving respiratory or cardiac distress. Training is based on American Heart Association curriculum.