While many children enjoyed the holidays at home with their families this year, there were many who didn’t, including the patients at CT Children’s Medical Center. Knowing how difficult that is, the employees at CT Children’s go above and beyond to help make the holidays extra special for their patients, especially those who are Child Life Specialists. A Child Life Specialist plays an essential role at CT Children’s —they serve as a liaison between the child and medicine, and help to make the whole hospital experience a lot easier for the families. Jennifer Wheaton is one of these specialists.
Why did you want to become a Child Life Specialist?
JW: I wanted to help hospitalized children who were struggling with illness or injury.
As a child life specialist, I have a unique opportunity to help teach kids about the hospital and their diagnosis through play and, hopefully, help to make the hospital a less scary place.
What role do toys play in the treatment and recover at CT Children’s?
JW: Play is the work of children! Kids learn about their environment and process
events, in particular stressful events, through play. We use toys in our playrooms
throughout the hospital to give kids a safe place to interact with other kids over a
board game, to engage in imaginative play in our pretend kitchen or work bench, to build Legos and do art activities. Toys are also used by child life specialists at the bedside for kids who are too sick to come out of their rooms. It’s amazing ho w
even the sickest kids in our care still have an innate desire to play. We do our best to help adapt toys and games so that any child, regardless of physical limitations or illness, has the opportunity to just be a kid and play as much as possible.
Why is it important for children to understand their treatment?
JW: Kids are able to cope better with the hospital experience when they understand what is happening. Imagine being in an unfamiliar place like a hospital, with
staff rushing in and out, having sometimes painful procedures or tests, and not
understanding why. By taking away the unknown, and explaining each piece of
the hospital experience, kids are able to develop some mastery over their illness
and trust in their caregivers.
What are the holidays like for the patients and how does the staff help?
JW: The holidays are often a hard time for kids to be in the hospital. They may be separated from family, classmates, and missing out on holiday traditions that they would normally be partaking in. We always do our best to make the time brighter. There are decorations all over the hospital and lots of our group art activities may be focused around making decorations for the kids’ hospital rooms or holiday cards for family and friends. Santa visits the hospital and spends time with the kids, and staff get really involved with Stuff-a-Stocking which ensures that each child in the hospital for the holidays feels remembered and special when they receive gifts picked out just for them by one of our staff members.
What makes CT Children’s different than other children’s hospitals?
JW: CT Children’s is special because we really do focus on families. Of course, the main goal is getting each child medically well, but there’s an emphasis on providing emotional support for kids and families, as well. Kids aren’t just little adults, they require a special type of care, and I feel like we do an excellent job of providing that at CT Children’s.