What Every Parent Should Know About Our Child Life Services

Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital is dedicated to helping children and their families feel comfortable with their experience during hospital and outpatient visits. Because March is Child Life Month, Child Life Specialist Michael Attard wants parents to know more about Child Life Specialists’ critical role at children’s hospitals and how their child- and family-centered approach provides support, education and healing.

What role does Child Life Services play at a children’s hospital?

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls Child Life “an essential component of quality pediatric healthcare.” In fact, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital believes that Child Life Services are among the key distinguishing factors of a children’s hospital. The reality is that hospitals,with their unfamiliar environment and potentially scary procedures, can be challenging for children and families. Stony Brook’s Certified Child Life Specialists work to make the child’s hospital visit more comfortable, anxiety-free, child friendly and, in many cases, fun.

Who are Child Life Specialists?

Child Life Specialists are certified healthcare professionals with a strong background in child development and family systems. Our education typically includes an emphasis on human growth and development, education, psychology or a related field of study. We also have years of experience in observing how children respond to the many aspects of hospitalization. Every pediatric patient at Stony Brook Children’s is eligible for Child Life Services.

What do Child Life Specialists do?

Child Life Specialists are advocates for our patients, acting as coaches throughout their treatment. We use the language of children to communicate, and it has power. When kids say they can’t, we help show them they can. 

Child Life Specialists:

  • Help minimize overall stress and anxiety by offering effective coping techniques
  • Provide normal play opportunities for hospitalized children
  • Enhance normal living patterns and experiences within the hospital environment
  • Lessen the emotional impact of illness and hospitalization
  • Help with pain management through pharmacological and non-pharmacological options
  • Advocate and support the patient’s and family’s roles in the healthcare team
  • Provide emotional support for families
  • Provide information about educational tutoring opportunities during hospitalization

When are Child Life Services used?

Child Life Services are most commonly used to familiarize children with the hospital environment and help patients cope with the stress that often accompanies hospitalization.In conjunction with an “ouch-less” approach to care, Child Life Specialists work with the multidisciplinary healthcare team to reduce anxiety and fear of pain. These trained professionals prepare children for treatment using age-appropriate education, and introduce a variety of coping techniques including guided imagery, relaxation and diversion. Sometimes a Child Life Specialist accompanies a patient to their procedure for support. Child Life Specialists work in inpatient units, the Pediatric Emergency Department, Radiology,Pre-Operative Services and the Stony Brook University Cancer Center.

The Child Life program also provides families with information about tutoring if a prolonged or recurrent hospital stay is expected. In addition, our nationally recognized School Intervention &Re-Entry Program helps students with cancer and blood disorders transition back to school, addressing the wide range of concerns of students, teachers and other classmates.

Why is play so important for hospitalized children?

Play is children’s “work,” and their means of exploration, discovery and conflict resolution. It is also the primary tool of the Child Life Program and provides a safe outlet for self expression.“Medical play” lets children use real or toy medical equipment in a play and teaching session in order to become familiar with equipment and procedures. In addition,throughout the hospital, we provide plenty of opportunities for play — from rooms equipped with games, books, and arts and crafts — to bedside activities for children who require isolation. The Child Life Program organizes special events in collaboration with various community organizations and businesses, including visits by clowns and pet therapy dogs,special birthday parties and holiday events.

For more information about Stony Brook Children’s, call (631) 444-KIDS (5437).