Helping Your Child Cope

Catholic Health's Child Life Program at Good Samaritan Hospital (West Islip, NY) helps you and your child cope with the hospital experience. When your child is in the hospital, they may become anxious about unfamiliar surroundings or unexpected events. Our program, designed for inpatient and outpatient care, aims to minimize stress associated with illness or injury, enhance normal patterns of living, and promote a child’s optimum growth and development.

child life specialist, young girl

Child Life Specialists

Child life specialists are experts in helping your child recuperate from the emotional and physical effects of illness and hospitalization while continuing their normal development.

Certified by the Child Life Council, our child life specialists are trained to use play, age-appropriate language, creative-arts therapies, family-centered care, distraction, and relaxation techniques. All of these help your child navigate the hospital experience using their best abilities for coping.

Child life specialists help with:

  • Developmental issues and special needs before or during scheduled surgery or hospital admission
  • Frequent admissions
  • How to talk to your child about serious illness, death or impending death
  • Pain and discomfort (not using medication)


  • Taking medicines or compliance with medical needs
  • Explaining an illness or injury in child-friendly language
  • Preparation for scheduled procedures or surgeries
  • Support for procedures or accompaniment during the procedure
  • When your child has difficulty coping with illness or hospitalization
  • Sibling issues

Helpful Guidance for Parents

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If your child's procedure requires an overnight stay in the hospital, have them help you pack a bag with special or familiar objects.

  • Favorite teddy, blanket, doll, pacifier or sippy cup.
  • Brush, comb, robe, slippers and other comfortable clothing. Often children prefer to wear their own pajamas instead of a hospital gown.
  • Special toy, handheld game or favorite video if it is particularly soothing to your child. The Child Life Program has many toys, video games and movies to loan.

The Child Life Program will invite your child to participate in creative projects and activities when able. Tell children that they will be asked what they like to do and what will help them relax (projects, games and toys) while in the hospital.

Hospitalization, doctor appointments and medical procedures can be very stressful for children of all ages. Preparing children ahead of time for the things they may experience in the hospital will reduce much of their anxiety and will help them cope and trust you and the people they meet in the hospital.

For children under the age of five, you should talk to them one to four days before the hospital experience. Older children should have two to four weeks to get information and ask questions.

Play is an excellent way to prepare a child for a health care experience. A play doctor’s kit for younger children can help to introduce the experience. Encourage a child to pretend to be the doctor or nurse for a favorite doll or stuffed animal. Read a good children’s book about going to the hospital or doctor’s office.

Use simple words your child will understand. Reassure young children that a hospital stay and hospital workers are there to help. Encourage your child to discuss feelings and ask questions about the upcoming experience. If you know that a surgery or procedure will hurt or be uncomfortable, never lie and say it won’t. Be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.

Allow your child to have choices and feel in control whenever possible like what to wear, what activity to do, a choice of movie or music to listen to.

Call us for supportive suggestions on how to talk about surgery or lab work in advance and for our schedule of surgery preparation classes.

Always ask any question you have for your child’s doctor or medical team. Writing down questions in advance, and information as you receive it, can help you to remember.

Spending time with a hospitalized child comforts them. But parents also need to take time out for themselves. The Child Life Program provides structured activities at bedside and in the playroom for every child. Consider taking time for yourself to rest, eat and relax while your child is involved in a special activity or event.

If you need to leave the hospital, it is important to let your child know when you are leaving and when you will be returning. Inform your nurse and child life specialist so we can provide extra support in your absence. As much as possible, maintain normal family limits and expectations. Your child will appreciate this structure and familiarity of routine.

Play is the developmental work of children. It provides opportunities to explore feelings and concerns and build trusting relationships. Play also helps your child gather information about the coping styles, fears and questions they may have about the hospital experience.

Child life specialists use play to translate the hospital experience into a more familiar and soothing experience for your child. Remembering to play, laugh and relax during difficult times has been shown to enhance healing and recovery. When children pretend, they “play out” their fears and concerns and achieve a sense of mastery over new situations.

When children have a hospital experience, their natural inclination is to look for places that are attractive, familiar and safe. Good Samaritan Hospital's playroom and rooftop garden are designed to be colorful and calm, with soothing blues, bright banners, kites on the ceiling and toys, art supplies and music for hours of relaxation.

Our outdoor rooftop garden is visible through the playroom windows and offers a cozy and private space for you and your child to play and visit. It is designed with seasonal plantings and comfortable seating and surrounded by bamboo walls. When children feel safe and soothed in their surroundings, they are more likely to trust unfamiliar events that make up a medical experience. Many seriously ill children use a trip to our playroom as a goal to get out of bed and focus on getting well again.

If your child will be hospitalized for an extended period of time, is hospitalized often, or needs help with homework or exams during a hospitalization, they may be eligible for school services provided by a hospital-based teacher. Your school district and the Child Life Program will work with you and participate in a decision about your child’s educational needs while hospitalized.

Procedures can be made easier and faster when child life specialists help reduce the anxiety of young patients and their parents.

Outpatient Services

Some radiology procedures or scans have to be done at the hospital because that is where the best equipment is located. When children come to the hospital they are often stressed by strange environments, fear of discomfort and the unknown and the need to hold still during a time when they are already anxious.

It can be especially hard for young children and children with special needs to undergo even simple radiology procedures. Child life specialists use special preparation, play, distraction and relaxation techniques to help children feel at ease and to build trust and cooperative skills during radiology procedures.

Play and distraction techniques have been shown to reduce the need for sedation during MRIs and CT scans for some children. While some kids like listening to music or stories, others prefer daydreaming or holding special calming toys.

A child life specialist works with each child and family individually to learn what coping skills work best and how to increase comfort and decrease anxiety.

Child life specialists teach children and their caregivers distraction and relaxation techniques to help reduce the experience of pain or discomfort.

When sedation cannot be used during a procedure, children can be taught non-pharmacological pain management techniques so that they can have a sense of mastery over their experience. Child life specialists teach children coping techniques, such as deep breathing and comfort holds with their parents, to help them feel more in control of their surroundings.

Siblings Feelings

Siblings of a child who is receiving medical care have a great need for information. Parents may want to protect a child from this information. But what a child may be imagining about his or her hospitalized sibling could be far more frightening than reality. Parents know how a child copes with change and should decide how much information share.

Child life specialists can help to prepare, answer questions, and assist siblings before, during and after a hospital visit. Call the Child Life Program for help with explaining a hospitalization to a sibling.

  • Keep communication open and honest.
  • Provide opportunities for them to ask questions.
  • Allow siblings to visit if possible in person, or via phone or the internet.
  • Check if there's a clear understanding of what the hospital is and the role of nurses and doctors. Also helpful to explain some of the medical equipment they will see in a way that they can understand.
  • Try to keep daily routines as normal as possible. When possible, keep child care consistent and stay in touch with a young sibling by phone or internet to reduce anxiety over your absence.
  • Read books about hospitals. Young children may benefit from coloring books/pages related to hospitalization.
  • Fear. Worry that their hospitalized sibling may be in danger. They also worry that the illness or injury will happen to them. Reassure children that all family members are safe and that doctors and nurses are taking good care of their sibling.
  • Jealousy. Siblings may feel left out when the hospitalized child receives more care and attention (also gifts) from other family members. When possible, ask a close family member or friend to help support siblings with extra attention while you care for a hospitalized child.
  • Anger. Siblings may be angry or upset about the changes at home and in their normal daily routine that the hospitalization has created. When possible, prepare children in advance when plans need to change. When children get mad, recognize angry feelings and credit their hard work. Examples:
    • “Thank you for trying to be patient. I know it is hard.”
    • "You got your homework done when I couldn’t be there to help! Great job!”
  • Needy. Siblings may feel that their parent/guardian cares more for a sibling than for them when more time is spent with the hospitalized child. When you can, offer lots of hugs to the well child. Thank them for being patient, waiting a long time or any task they complete while you are gone.
  • Guilt. Young children often think that something they did or said caused the illness/injury to happen. Siblings may feel responsible for the hospitalization. They also may feel guilty over being angry or jealous about the extra attention a sibling is getting. Reassure all children that illness and injury are no one’s fault. Tell them it is natural and normal to have lots of feelings.

Additional Guidance

The child life team provides a child friendly preparation visit and tour for you and your child twice a month. In these sessions, members of our team help to familiarize your child and family with ambulatory surgery. This is a good time for children to explore the simple things they will see, hear or experience on their surgery day. They may also meet other children who are having surgery.

Parents of very young children use this class to feel more prepared on the surgery day. When you are relaxed, it helps your infant or toddler to do the same. It is helpful to attend a preparation class if you wish to be present with your child during the beginning of anesthesia (induction). Please note that a parent's presence at induction is always at the discretion of your doctors on day of surgery.

We make every effort to call and invite you to the class that is closest to your child's day of surgery. Please call us if your child has special needs or if your family would like to attend a different class than the one closest to the surgery date.

The medical environment is anxiety producing for all children but especially for children with sensitivities to new environments, behavior and transitioning.

Our child life specialists do our best to practice family centered care, which is a partnership with you because you are the constant in your child’s life. We welcome your insight into your child’s care and coping needs at all times.

Please tell us how we can help as a medical team. You know what sights and sounds are soothing and how your child best receives important information.

Call our team and tell us in advance what your child needs to make a planned hospitalization and their health care experience easier. We can help you plan a preparation visit.

A stay in the hospital, or a visit to the doctor, can be a strange and stressful experience for a child. The Child Life Program helps to normalize the experience.

Most children leave the hospital feeling accomplished and excited to tell relatives and friends about their experience. Some children even cry when they are told it is time to leave the hospital playroom. Children often continue to play and process a hospital experience after they return home.

Provide a small welcome home celebration for a few friends or family as a transition from hospital to home. Toys like a pretend doctor’s kit or a teddy bear with bandages also help.

Listen and watch play closely. Call the Child Life Program for more suggestions on how to help your child through words and playing.

Guidance by Age

If you are prepared and feeling at ease, your very young child will take cues from you.

Use a soft comforting voice, soft music or lullaby and gentle touch when children are uncomfortable during medical tests or exams. Favorite toys or diversion items that distract or amuse can greatly decrease the sense of wait time or discomfort. Toys that are active and light up can be very helpful.

Provide simple but true explanations for medical events. “The doctor wants to help get rid of the pain in your tummy so she needs to take a quick listen.” Blowing bubbles or pinwheels help with relaxation and distraction. Singing a song or telling a story help with calming and wait times.

Young children often imagine they are being punished for something they did wrong. Tell your child that it is no one’s fault when we get sick or need the doctor or hospital.

Rewards for difficult experiences, such as holding still during blood tests, can help your child feel accomplished and teach coping skills. Try stickers, hugs, small toys or star charts that lead to larger gifts. Never punish a child for not cooperating. Find something to praise. “You held still for five seconds! Good job!” Praise the action instead of the whole child like: “Good job!” instead of “Good boy!” or “Bad boy!”

Find diversion activities that combine fun with challenges like Where’s Waldo? books, pop-up books, glitter wands, music with headphones, iPad/iPhone games.

Teach deep breathing in advance. Explain that athletes use breathing techniques to do things faster and better. Answer questions honestly. Use good websites to explain how the body works or what a procedure is.

If medical interventions are routine for your child then help them experiment in advance when blood work or procedures are expected to decide what coping techniques work best for them.

Encourage expression and validate feelings.

Allow and encourage an adolescent’s participation in their health care. During a hospitalization, when possible, allow an adolescent to bring technology that will help them stay connected to peers and activities they enjoy.

Teach deep breathing in advance. Explain that athletes use breathing techniques to do things faster and better. Provide access to good education about how the body works and medical treatment.

Adolescents may tell you they don’t need your help. But they do. Remain available for support and to encourage expression and validate feelings.

Donations & Volunteer Help Welcomed

Call 631-376-3717 for more information.

Child Life Program

good samaritan hospital exterior

Good Samaritan Hospital

West Islip, NY Hospitals