Many parents feel their biggest responsibility is to protect their children and keep them safe. When one’s child is diagnosed with a threatening medical condition or a chronic illness, there are often many feelings of fear, helplessness, and loss of control.
When it comes to supporting a child through doctor’s appointments, medical testing, and/or procedures/surgeries, studies show that one of the most helpful interventions a parent can do is to be honest with their children and provide developmentally appropriate information ahead of time regarding what is happening and why.
Families might feel apprehensive before having these difficult conversations, but is important that such crucial information come from someone a child can trust. Without proper preparation, it has been found that a child may lose trust in their caregiver, the medical team, and the future of their healthcare. Research tells us how preparing children prior to medical procedures leads to a quicker recovery and positive coping skills.
Child life specialists
Before and during hospitalization, many parents and caregivers seek support from certified child life specialists who can be consulted to provide aid regarding the best ways to help a child understand their diagnosis, find the language to best tell them about what this means, recommend resources, or to just be a source of information regarding any questions a caregiver might have.
Child life specialists are trained professionals who use a multitude of tools such as preparation books or teaching dolls, and language that is developmentally appropriate, non-invasive and concrete to help a child understand their illness and medical treatment.
The Cardiac Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has a team of certified child life specialists available for preparation, support and normalization during surgical and procedural previsits in the Cardiac Clinic, the Intake Center, the Cardiac Preparation and Recovery Unit, and both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and Cardiac Care Unit.
Child life specialists are also available to provide services to a child’s siblings in order to ensure a family-centered approach to care.
Support for caregivers
In addition to supporting the child during their hospital admission, it is also imperative that caregivers find support for themselves. Processing new information regarding a child’s health can be very difficult for parents. Studies show that a caregiver’s anxiety can directly impact the coping skills of their child overall. Through the support of a therapist or psychologist, caregivers can learn appropriate strategies to implement tools to ensure comfort, ease anxiety, and effectively process their child’s medical experience.
Effectively managing their emotions allows caregivers to lead their child through a positive hospital experience for the whole family.
Information and resources
For more help in supporting your child’s upcoming doctors’ appointments, medical tests, or procedures and/or surgeries, please contact the Cardiology Child Life Team via email at CardiologyChildLife@email.chop.edu.
You can also find a list of therapeutic books on our Resources page, and take a virtual tour of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by visiting www.KidsHealthGalaxy.org.