On a blank canvas, Rebecca Haight wrote down everything that came to mind about her hospitalization.
When the list was complete, she used a syringe filled with purple paint to splatter over the items on the list she didn’t like.
“I like to paint because it’s good pain management,” said Rebecca, a 14-year-old patient at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
In another room, a sandy-colored bear named Tubie wore the same equipment as 4-year-old patient Hadley Patterson — a central catheter, a gastrostomy tube, an IV and a nasal cannula — to help her cope with her diagnosis.
These therapeutic activities are techniques used by UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital Child Life Program staff to help children and families manage the stress and anxiety of hospitalization and clinic appointments. Funded by Children’s Miracle Network, the program has seven specialists on staff.
“We really focus on the psychosocial needs of children — always collaborating with members of our interdisciplinary team, nurses and doctors to form a treatment plan for a level of high-quality care,” said Chelsie Thomas, child life specialist.
The team offers a variety of services for patients and families, such as educational procedural preparation and distraction techniques. Other forms of support are therapeutic activities, sibling intervention, diagnosis education, developmental play and parental education.
“Children in hospitals who engage in therapeutic play with trained professionals such as child life specialists exhibit less emotional distress, increased cooperation and fewer negative psychological responses,” Thomas said.
Thomas introduced Hadley to Tubie bear to assist with medical play sessions and educate her about her diagnosis.
“It really helps her if she can perform a procedure on the bear first,” Thomas said. “Hadley then gets the procedure and during the sessions she will console the bear the same way a child life specialist would because she wants to take on that role.”
Hadley and her mother, Kristen Patterson, are grateful for the Child Life Program. It helps Hadley take her mind off the hospital and her illness.
“In a hospital without a Child Life Program, you are always on and alert and you don’t have anybody who can explain things to a 4-year-old in a way your child can understand it,” Kristen Patterson said. “UF Heath Shands is very fortunate to have the child life specialists that they have. They are very active, responsive and special, and we appreciate everything they have done for us. Chelsie has made a big difference in Hadley’s life.”
To learn more about the Child Life Program, visit UFHealth.org/child-life-program.