Living through pediatric cancer is an all-encompassing experience for families. There’s so much more to that journey than just going through the treatment itself.
Because it can be so overwhelming, one of my jobs as a child life specialist is to help parents and their kids adapt to the changes that come along with this experience.
Here are 4 things child life specialists can do for you and your family.
1. Provide Developmentally Appropriate Discipline Advice.
When you have a child in the hospital, it can be easy to let things go. That’s not only true for your child with cancer, but also for your other kids.
Many parents come to us saying that they’re struggling with discipline. Reaching out to child life specialists is one of the smartest moves they can make: We have a background in child development, plus years of actual experience with sick children and their families.
We encourage families to maintain a sense of routine with their child—even if it’s a different schedule because they are in the hospital.
For example, if parents are struggling to get their child to turn the TV off at night in the hospital, we might suggest enforcing a “lights out” time, just like you would at home.
2. Reinforce The Importance Of Routine.
It’s more than okay to encourage kids who are in the hospital to stick to a schedule by providing them with direction, parameters, and focus. In fact, we know that children thrive on that because it helps them to have some order in their world.
But that doesn’t mean families can’t have fun with routine and rules. And child life specialists can make some creative suggestions. Your child could turn the schedule into an art project, for example. The activity itself is fun, and the end product shows her what is expected of her.
3. Give Tips For Getting Kids To Take Their Meds.
It’s not earth-shaking news that kids struggle with taking meds. They might physically have trouble swallowing pills. Or they might not like the taste of the medicine.
This is another area where we can help. We have some ways that we can teach kids how to swallow oral meds. There are also ways to mix meds, so that they don’t taste so yucky.
In fact, I have a handout I give to parents that I worked with our pharmacy to create that has suggested ways to mix meds. There are a lot of different, tasty liquids, which makes choosing flavors fun for the kids.
4. Encourage Peer Interaction And Socialization.
Pediatric cancer patients are often in isolation while they’re in the hospital because of their weakened immune systems. This means they’re not in school, and they’re wearing masks when they’re out and about. It also means they typically don’t get as much socialization as their peers.
Socialization is important for kids of all ages. For example, younger kids need socialization as part of reaching those milestones that their peers in preschool are reaching. And school age kids and teens need peer interaction as part of forming their own sense of self within a community.
As child life specialists, we make it a priority to help our kids have chances to socialize. We do this by encouraging playtime with other kids in the unit, when it’s appropriate.
And if possible, we try to connect kids of the same age to create an opportunity for friendship. Bonding with someone who is going through a similar journey can help kids a lot, so we try to encourage those connections as much as we can.
These are just a few of the less well-known ways that child life specialists can help pediatric cancer patients and their families.
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