Child Life Month Highlights Importance of Making Children Comfortable During Hospital StayMar 1, 2022
HARLINGEN – Hospitalization can be a stressful event for anyone, but for children, a hospital stay can be especially difficult due to their age, level of understanding, degree of illness, and strength of support system.
There are, however, ways parents and healthcare providers can team up to make a child’s hospital stay easier to cope with, said Claudia Lopez, MSN, RN, and director of pediatric & pediatric intensive care unit services at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.
Because children process information from the world around them differently than their adult counterparts, the way they manage the stress of hospitalization is also different, Lopez said.
“When a child experiences illness or injury it affects the normal progression of their development. For example, imagine a toddler who is gaining independence through new skills like walking and talking,” she said. “When they come to the hospital, not only are they in an unfamiliar environment, but they also have to be attached to an IV pole, may have to stay in bed, and most of their opportunities for making choices are taken away.”
Lopez said it is in coping with those changes in routine where play can serve a vital role in helping children heal and recover. Because March serves as Child Life Month, there is no better time than the present to stress the importance of maintaining a sense of normalcy during a child’s hospital stay.
“Play is adaptive. Play fills the gaps created by stress and illness. Play minimizes the limitations and enhances the natural abilities to cope and find pleasure in their surroundings,” she said.
That play can take a variety of forms, Lopez said. From activities in bed to specialized rooms for younger and older pediatric patients, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen and Valley Baptist-Brownsville offer a number of opportunities for young patients to normalize their time in the hospital.
Dr. Asim Zamir, Chief of Pediatrics at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, said that for children, the experiences surrounding hospitalization can be far more difficult to cope with because children often lack the life experience of their adult counterparts.
“For pediatric patients, a trip to the hospital can be especially traumatic. In addition to the medical reason for their visit, which is likely stressful on its own, they are introduced to an environment full of unusual sights and sounds,” he said. “Depending on their age, children may have unpleasant memories of previous hospital visits, or they may have seen things on television or in movies that don’t always portray hospitals as bright and cheerful spaces.”
Zamir said that the road to recovery for pediatric patients starts with pediatric nurses and physicians who are experienced in helping their patients feel at ease during an incredibly stressful time in their lives.
“We work incredibly hard to help our patients feel relaxed,” he said. “We work to take their minds off their concerns by asking questions about their interests. We engage in conversations about school, their favorite television shows, their pets, and their friends. We encourage them to share stories.”
While specialized rooms, activities, and experienced healthcare providers are important to a child’s recovery, Lopez said that family plays a vital role on the path to wellness.
“Family members are the consistent in kids’ lives, so they are the primary comfort and support. It’s crucial that family members are well-informed and feel empowered to do what they know is best for their child. A child may worry that they will have to stay in the hospital alone, or that they won’t be shielded from pain or discomfort. This can cause some tension, and caregivers are often afraid to give kids the truth when it’s not “happy” or “positive”, but communicating honestly and giving children reasonable expectations builds trust and allows them to more effectively rely on you,” she said.
For more information on pediatrics services for Valley children at both Valley Baptist-Harlingen and Valley Baptist-Brownsville, visit www.valleybaptist.net.