The world of doctors, nurses, shots and surgeries can cause worry and uneasiness in children.
However, one spirited organization and a dedicated child life team are taking steps to calm kids’ fears and reduce their anxieties throughout the year.
With its popular Spirit of Children program, seasonal retailer Spirit stores has raised more than $346,000 for Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital since 2006, benefitting the child life department, which helps young patients feel better about spending time in the hospital.
Dorothy Clark Brooks, MA, CCLS, bereavement and community education specialist at Children’s Hospital, says the organization is greatly appreciated by the patients and staff.
“If you mention Spirit of Children in our hospital, the response will most likely be a great big smile. We are so grateful for their faithful and enthusiastic support,” Brooks said.
Each Inland Empire Spirit store hosts a fundraiser every year asking customers if they’d like to contribute. One-hundred percent of all monies raised are then donated to the child life department at Children’s Hospital. Recent funds were used to pay the salary of a child-life fellow in the radiology department for an entire year.
Radiologic exams, like a magnetic resonance imaging test, or MRI, can be stressful to children. Being inserted into a long narrow tube can sometimes trigger feelings of claustrophobia, and the machine also makes loud noises throughout the lengthy procedure.
Rachel Kinsinger, CCLS, the first child-life fellow at Children’s Hospital, created a new program that helps children prepare for an MRI. They are able to remain fully awake during the test, and since they don’t need the services of an anesthesiologist, the procedure can be done considerably sooner — sometimes several months sooner — and at significantly lower costs. More importantly, any problems discovered during the test can be detected and treated earlier.
Jamie Jones, MS, a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital recently completed a year as a fellow thanks to funding from Spirit of Children. “I’m thankful for the opportunity this provides to focus on the needs of the children,” she says.
Jones says her top priority is to help parents relax about their child’s upcoming surgery. “When parental anxiety decreases, the patient’s anxiety decreases,” she says.
After talking to the parents, she focuses on the fun stuff with her young patients. “I ask if they would like to paint their surgical mask like a superhero,” Jones says. “It sounds simple, but painting and decorating the mask makes a big difference to the kids. We are their safe person, the one who goes with them into the operating room and holds their hand. We explain what’s going on. It means a lot to them.”
Since children rarely say things like, “Wow, that really helped me feel better,” Jones watches for subtle psychological clues expressed in posture or body language, or traces the transition of a worried look as it eases into a relaxed smile.