Adult Consults – Discussing a Diagnosis

In the Fall of 2017, I completed my internship at a Pediatric Unit within an Adult Hospital. Although the pediatric population was our primary focus, we also provided support to adults who were struggling to talk to kids about hospital issues. One of the main things we did was work with parents to explain a new diagnosis to their children. If the parent had just been diagnosed with cancer or needed an organ transplant, we would often meet with the families to talk more about what these changes would mean.

You could probably define our main job as translation. Parents know their children best so most of them knew what to say but they struggled with how to explain medical terms like cancer, chemo, etc. That’s where Child Life’s developmentally appropriate experience and knowledge of the medical environment was needed. We would chat with parents about their children and what they’re like and then suggest ways to define big and scary words like cancer.

We also provided affirmation. With many of the families that I met with, the parents knew what they wanted to say and how to do it but they were unsure if they were “doing it right.” When we explained to them that they know their child best and their desire to be honest with the children is most important, families calmed down. It was interesting to see how helpful it was for them to have someone else say, “Yes, you’re doing it right.”

Obviously there were so many resources we provided for the families. For the parents, we gave them Kathleen McCue’s book How to Help Children with a Parent’s Serious IllnessThis book is an excellent resource that provided families with practical guidance for talking to children about illness and also death. Because it’s broken up into smaller categories, parents could focus on the area that they felt they needed help with and they didn’t have to read the whole book. Some general books that we provided families with for their children were When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness and A Terrible Thing Happened.

For the children, we would share diagnosis specific books for the families about whatever illness they were facing. There are so many books available for children about illness and the medical setting, but they aren’t easily found in your local library. As Child Life Specialists, we knew resources that were available and we could share them with the families.

Finally, I loved to give families Worry Eaters or give them instructions to make their own worry eater. What’s great about Worry Eaters is that it encourages kids to write down their questions and fears but they can share those thoughts when they feel ready or when the caregiver is ready. It often takes some pressure off both the parent and the child. There was one family that I met during my internship who I gave Worry Eaters to mom to give to her two school aged boys. For the rest of dad’s hospitalization, they carried those Worry Eaters with them wherever they went. We invited the boys to many hospital events that were happening for our pediatric patients, and they brought their Worry Eaters to every event.

Do you work in a setting where you help adults talk to kids about overwhelming topics? I’d love to hear more about your experiences in the comments below!


Fabulous Find: Gabe’s Chemo Duck

Cancer treatment can be scary for kids. As Child Life Specialists, we know the importance of preparation. Chemo Duck is a great tool to help prepare kids for a port, central line, or really any procedures they may encounter during their treatment. Chemo Duck comes with a port or a central line and he can be a child’s companion throughout treatment or just during medical play sessions.


Visit their website to learn more;




Interactive Schedule

Between working two jobs to save money for my Fall Child Life Internship and taking online classes as a part of UCSB’s Child Life Certificate Program, there has not been a lot of spare time for blogging this summer. But I did want to share with you all a project that I worked on this week.

As a part of my class Children with Special Needs in the Healthcare Setting, I developed an adaptive therapeutic intervention. I was assigned a 12 y.o patient that was developmentally functioning at about the level of a 9 y.o. Due to the many medical conditions that this patient had, they were in a wheelchair, used slings to hold their arms up due to a lack of strength and also had communication issues due to a trach. Medical play is hard for this patient and they have severe anxiety before procedures. My idea for an intervention was to make an interactive schedule that the patient could put together along with guidance from the staff.

The goals of this intervention were to provide a sense of predictability and stability regarding each week’s routine. By allowing the patient to make the schedule each week, it would also give them a sense of control over their days. The materials I used were a wooden dowel, magnets, printed and laminated images of emotions, procedures and rewards, and then a piece of poster board for the schedule. Below are images of my schedule and brief descriptions of each step.

The first thing I did was print off procedures, rewards and emotions. The procedures were ones that the patient frequently encountered (such as x-rays, blood draws, trach changes, etc). And then I also printed possible rewards. While the patient might not be able to choose which procedures happen on which day, they would be able to make the decision whether they would like to play with the IPAD or hear a story after an unwanted medical procedure. I felt it was important to print off emotions to enhance communication between staff and the patient. Because of the trach, staff struggled to understand this patient. By allowing the patient to display an emotion each day, the staff can better support and comfort them.


I printed these images on card stock paper, cut them out into little squares and then laminated them. After laminating the squares, I glued a small magnet to the back of them. This magnet would allow the squares to attach to the board and also made it possible for the patient to lift them. Because of the patient’s need for slings in order to hold their arms up, there is not a lot of mobility. But the patient would be able to hold the dowel and drag it to the square with a magnet on it. While the patient might not be able to attach the square to the board without help, they would be the one who would select the procedure/emotions/reward and bring it to the appropriate place on the board. Staff could then help remove the dowel from the laminated square.


The words I chose for the headings were very intentional. I chose to use “have” for the medical procedures because the patient doesn’t have a lot of choice about which ones will happen and when they will occur. I used “I would like to” for the rewards to emphasize that this decision was the patient’s. They chose what they would like to do after the procedure that they had to have done.

Stay tuned for most posts about the projects that I’ve done for my summer classes. I’ll share them as my free time allows.

My Experience as a Patient

I want to start this post by saying that I am okay! I realize that my entire head is bandaged, but I actually just had a small cut on the back of my scalp. The bandage goes around my entire head so that the gauze on my wound would stay there without someone holding it. I went ice skating with friends this past weekend and took a little spill about ten minutes into the afternoon. My feet went out from under me, my butt hit the ice and then my head. My first thought was, naturally, “darn, that’s embarrassing!” I wanted to get back up brush it off, but I quickly realized that was not possible. Although I did not pass out or become dizzy, I was very light headed. My friends dragged me over to the side of the rink, but I was able to walk off the ice and later walk to the car and into the hospital. So that definitely felt like an accomplishment! A nurse and a surgeon’s PA both came over after my fall and were very helpful in stopping the bleeding and taking care of me before the medics got there. While I was sitting on the ice withe everyone taking such good care of me, I quickly realized that you can’t turn off the child life specialist within you. I might not be certified yet, but I believe that I think and act like a child life specialist. I noticed that there were some kids in the group standing very close and trying to see. In my head, I wished that someone would engage them in interactive play away from here so they wouldn’t see all the blood. Since I couldn’t easily convey that to those around me, I tried to use an enthusiastic voice and suggest that they go ice skating some more. I might have been bleeding from my head, but I sure wasn’t going to let those children see the blood and get scared.


After the medics at the ice rink wrapped my head, our next stop was the emergency room. Now one of my strengths is communication and I talk A LOT when I’m nervous or when my adrenaline is rushing. I’ll let you imagine what the car ride was like…. One of the things that I later realized I did was prepared the others in the car for what might happen when we got there. But I think that I was actually trying to calm myself by walking everyone through the procedure. One of my practicum supervisors from this summer was an ER Child Life Specialist, so we spent a lot of time working with kids with lacerations. I knew the steps; numbing medication (probably EMLA cream since it was an open wound and a J-tip wouldn’t be practical), irrigation (the big syringe that washed your wound) and then the sutures. My friends must have thought I was crazy as I told them what each step would be and the associated sensations. Lucky for me, they are great friends and just listened as I blabbered on!


After the drive to the hospital came the fun part of waiting. The registration and triage went very quickly, but then we were sent back to the waiting room for what would be a four hour wait. As I mentioned earlier, I can’t turn off the child life specialist in me so I had Play-Doh in my purse that was nice to squeeze while waiting. As we were waiting, I tried to look around and imagine how it might look to an injured child. The hospital we went to was next door to a large Children’s Hospital, so this emergency department didn’t have anything for children as kids would be brought next door. But regardless of whether the hospital is a children’s hospital or not, there is always a wait time. And this wait time is a time of the unknown, a time to imagine what might be going on behind closed doors in the ER and also about how the doctor might decide to treat the wound.

After those four hours, I was admitted to an ER room and the doctor came in shortly after. He looked at the wound on the back of my head and then left to talk to his supervisor before they both returned to start fixing my head. While they were gone, the nurse brought in the supplies that they would be using. I had been wrong about how the doctor would take care of my head wound, and they actually used a numbing agent that is injected into the skin and they stapled my wound instead of doing stitches. But when the nurse brought in the supplies, I was able to identify them. I knew what the sterile water was for (irrigation), I recognized the irrigation kit and the large syringe, I knew that the small vial of medication was the numbing agent that would be injected and I could easily figure out which device was the stapler. But what if I hadn’t spent my summer in the hospital? What if I was a scared child who just saw a nurse bring in the supplies? As I named the items, I realized how important it is to properly prepare kids before procedures. Before my accident, I did know that preparation was important. But the experience of being the patient let me realize it’s importance from another point of view, the point of view of the child instead of the student who has studied stress, trauma and child development.


In the end, I only needed two staples for the one centimeter cut on the back of my head. While I’m glad I didn’t have a concussion and that it’s wasn’t more serious, a larger wound might have made a more dramatic story! But I can’t complain about how things worked out. 🙂 I’ve never been seriously hurt before this (and I realize that this injury wasn’t very serious either) but it did allow me to experience the hospital in a way that many children do each day. It allowed me an opportunity to grow in empathy towards those who are in the hospital, to those children that I hope to one day serve as a Certified Child Life Specialist.

Fabulous Find Friday: KidSpeak App

Today’s Fabulous Find is a very well done app from the Tuscon Medical Center for Children. This app is called KidsSpeak : Medical Preps for Kids. This app has photos of most of the rooms that a child might encounter in the hospital and walks them through all the machines and other tools that they might find in the room. It also has a digital whiteboard. This is a really cool feature that allows the child (or Child Life Specialist) to draw on the body parts. What a great way to illustrate a medical condition!

There are so many apps out there, which are your favorite ones for children?


Fabulous Find Friday: Plush Organs

Welcome to our first Fabulous Find Friday! My plan is to share with you some Child Life related items and opportunities that I think might interest other passionate Child Life Individuals!

Today I want to share with you PLUSH ORGANS!!! Many of you might have seen them on Pinterest, but I have finally found where you can buy them online. I Heart Guts doesn’t only sell plush organs, but also T-shirts, socks and keychains. I’m not kidding when I say that Plush Organs are now at the top of my Christmas wishlist.

Unfortunately, they are only available in plush form which could make it hard to utilize these in the hospital setting. But I’m sure there are other ways that they could be used to educated children about their bodies. How would you use Plush Organs to educate and prepare children?