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 physical and emotional challenges caused by illness, hospitalization, accident or injury. We believe anxiety, stress and fear don’t have to be a part of your child’s medical care.

We offer inpatient and outpatient care designed to meet the unique needs of children and their families. Our specially trained child life specialists are an integral part of your child’s care team. They provide therapeutic play and support throughout your child’s medical journey to help them achieve the best possible outcome.

child life specialist, young girl

Certified Child Life Specialists

Child life specialists at Catholic Health are certified by the Association of Child Life Professionals. We use play-based, family-centered care to help children understand and manage the impact illness and injury have on their lives. 

We know how comforting it is to have someone in your corner during times of stress and uncertainty. Our child life specialists offer assistance and support, including:

  • Age-appropriate language and materials
  • Creative-arts therapy
  • Developmental play
  • Distraction techniques
  • Horticulture
  • Medical play
  • Music groups
  • Relaxation techniques
  • School tutor
     

We believe every child deserves to live the healthiest life possible. We help your child and your family handle the challenges illness or injury brings, including:

  • Alternate forms of pain relief that don’t require medication
  • Fears and concerns about their health and mortality
  • Preparation for diagnosis and treatment procedures
  • Reoccurring hospital admissions
  • Sibling issues
  • Special needs and developmental issues related to upcoming surgery or hospitalization
     

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, including:

  • Brush, comb, robe, slippers and other comfortable clothing. Often children prefer to wear their own pajamas instead of a hospital gown.
  • Favorite toy, stuffed animal, or doll.
  • Pacifier or sippy cup.
  • Special blanket or pillow.

Child life specialists invite your child to participate in creative projects and activities in the playroom or at their bedside when able. They focus on your child, using projects, games and toys that will help them relax while in the hospital.

 

Hospitalization, doctor appointments and medical procedures can be very stressful for children of all ages. Preparing your child ahead of time for the hospital reduces anxiety and helps them cope.

  • Allow your child to have choices and feel in control whenever possible like what they wear, what activity to do and the movies to watch or music to listen to.
  • If you know that a surgery or procedure will hurt or be uncomfortable, never lie and say it won’t. 
  • Play is an excellent way to prepare your 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.
  • Talk to children under the age of five one to four days before their hospital experience is scheduled. Give older children two to four weeks to get information and ask questions.
  • Use simple words your child will understand when discussing their situation. Reassure them that a hospital stay and hospital workers are there to help. Encourage your child to discuss feelings and ask questions about the upcoming experience. Be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.

We welcome your questions. Writing them down in advance, and taking notes as you receive information, can help you remember details and specifics later.

Spending time with a hospitalized child comforts them. But parents and caregivers also need to care for themselves. Consider taking time for yourself to rest, eat and relax while your child is involved in a special activity or event.

Let your child know when you are leaving the hospital 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 provides a vital function for children. It provides opportunities to explore feelings and concerns while building trusting relationships. 

Play helps children: 

  • Calm their fears 
  • Gather information about that helps build their coping style
  • Translate their hospital stay into a more familiar and stress-free experience
  • Understand their hospital experience and the reason it’s necessary

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.

Children thrive in places that are attractive, familiar and safe. Good Samaritan Hospital's playroom and rooftop garden are designed to be colorful and calm. 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 or garden as a goal to get out of bed and focus on getting well again.

Features include:

  • A healing environment with soothing blues, bright banners and kites on the ceiling
  • Cozy, private spaces for you and your child to play and visit
  • Music
  • Rooftop garden that’s visible through the playroom windows
  • Seasonal plantings, bamboo walls and comfortable seating 
  • Toys and art supplies

We work with your child’s school district to provide school services with a hospital-based teacher if your child is:
Hospitalized for an extended period of time
Hospitalized often
Needs help with homework or exams during a hospitalization

Your school district and the Child Life Program will work with you to help determine 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

When one of your children requires medical care, their siblings also often have a great need for information. You may want to protect your children from this information. But what your child may be imagining about his or her hospitalized sibling could be far more frightening than reality. 

Child life specialists can help you 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.

 

  • Allow siblings to visit in person if possible, or via phone or the internet if visitation is limited.
  • Explain medical equipment, personnel and procedures in an easy-to-understand way.
  • Keep communication open and honest.
  • Keep daily routines as normal as possible. Keep childcare as consistent as possible and stay in touch with a young sibling by phone or internet to reduce anxiety over your absence.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities to ask questions.
  • Read books about hospitals. Younger children may benefit from coloring books/pages related to hospitalization.

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 they get mad, recognize angry feelings and credit their hard work.
 

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.

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.

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.

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 your well child. Thank them for being patient, waiting a long time or any task they complete while you are gone.

Guidance by Age

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

  • Use a comforting voice, soft music 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.
     

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.

  • Never punish a child for not cooperating. Find something to praise.
  • Offer rewards for difficult experiences, such as holding still during blood tests, to help your child feel accomplished and teach coping skills. 
  • Provide distractions such as blowing bubbles or pinwheels
  • Praise the action instead of the whole child. Say “Good job!” instead of “Good boy!” or “Bad boy!”
  • Provide simple but true explanations for medical events.
  • Blowing bubbles or pinwheels help with relaxation and distraction.
  • Sing a song or tell a story to help encourage calm during wait times. 
     
  • Answer questions honestly. Use good websites to explain how the body works or what a procedure is.
  • Encourage expression and validate feelings.
  • Find diversion activities that combine fun with challenges like pop-up books, glitter wands, music with headphones and iPad/iPhone games.
  • Role play before scheduled blood work or procedures to develop coping techniques and determine what tactics work best.
  • Teach deep breathing techniques in advance. 

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

  • Allow and encourage active participation in their health care. 
  • During a hospitalization, allow your child to bring technology that helps them stay connected to peers and activities they enjoy.
  • Provide access to good education about how the body works and medical treatment.
  • Teach deep breathing in advance. Explain that athletes use breathing techniques to do things faster and better.

Additional Guidance

Children with sensitivities to new environments, behavior and transitioning may experience additional challenges during their hospital stay. We know you’re the expert when it comes to your child’s needs. We practice family-centered care that builds a circle of support centered on your family’s unique needs.

Our team welcomes your insights. We encourage you to:

  • Call our team and tell us in advance what your child needs to make a planned hospitalization and their health care experience easier.
  • Share information about how your child best receives important information.
  • Share information about sights and sounds that soothe your child.

Tell us how we can help as a medical team. 
 

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.

Ease the transition with:

  • A small welcome home celebration for a few friends or family. 
  • Careful listening and observation during playtime. 
  • Toys like a pretend doctor’s kit or a teddy bear with bandages.
     

 

Volunteer Help Welcomed

Call 631-376-3717 for more information.

Child Life Program

good samaritan hospital exterior

Good Samaritan Hospital

West Islip, NY Hospitals