It’s okay to cry! We hear this discussed when talking about expressing feelings and coping and it applies to the hospital setting. There are many ways to cope with a stressful situation and sometimes crying is a child’s coping mechanism.
As Child Life Specialists, our role is to support a patient’s coping. Through play and relaxation techniques, we attempt to engage the patient and distract them during a stressful situation. But sometimes the patient isn’t distractible. Sometimes no amount of education will calm the patient or help them take their mind off what’s happening. When the patient reaches this point, we can still support them.
One of the most powerful things we as Child Life Specialists can do is hold a patient’s hand and let them know that it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be scared. When a child is feeling overwhelmed, crying can be their form of communication. It can be their way to telling others that they’re scared, stressed and feeling overwhelmed. I was helping a preschooler with an x-ray the other day who chose screaming to cope. She allowed staff to position her for the chest x-ray and held still, but chose to let off short piercing screams to communicate with staff. Yes her screams hurt my ears, but she held still and got through her x-ray.
While crying is okay, what’s not okay is for patients to pull away or fight the medical staff who are trying to help them. When my patients are tearful before procedures, I like to remind them that it’s okay to cry if they want to. But if they pull their arm away during the IV or they fight the positioning for their x-ray, it will take longer and be more painful. It’s important with children to set clear rules and expectations. Crying is okay, fighting with the staff is not okay.