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Helping Children Cope

In order to make hospitalization a positive and less stressful experience, we as Child Life Specialists strive to help alleviate stress and anxiety while promoting positive coping strategies. The following coping strategies can be useful for children who are hospitalized and/or having a procedure:


Child Life Specialists (CLS) provide children with developmentally appropriate information to help a child cope better before, during, and after the hospital experience.

CLS use dolls, photos, and actual medical equipment to explain step-by-step what the procedure will be like to the child. Information focuses on what the child will possibly see, feel, hear, smell, and taste.

  • Preparing your child before any hospital experience can help reduce any specific fears or misconceptions a child may have prior to the procedure.
  • Preparing a child in advance for a procedure will allow you and your child to establish acceptable coping strategies for the patient before the procedure begins. (i.e., blowing bubbles, positioning for comfort holds, counting, watching or looking away, distraction, etc...)
  • Medical play can be very helpful to teach a child about an upcoming procedure. Patients in the healthcare setting are offered medical play opportunities to assist children in understanding the difficult and complex experiences they face while in the hospital or clinic. Medical play with a CCLS allows patients to explore aspects of the medical environment that may be unfamiliar or frightening to them and provides patients with a sense of mastery and control, self-expression, and can alleviate misconceptions about medical situations.

 Area    Description   Tools
Distraction   Distraction can help children cope with difficult or painful procedures by directing their focus away from the procedure and on to something interesting and/or relaxing.   Interactive musical toys, fun key-chains, magic wands, squishy balls, pop-up books, sound books, I-SPY books, CD player, electronic hand-held games, or anything else that will hold the child's interest for a period of time.
Mental Imagery    Mental Imagery can help direct a child's focus away from the procedure and onto a pleasant thought or image. Assisting a child to think about a pleasant event or a special place he/she would like to be can be useful, especially for school age children and adolescents.   Relaxation CD and player, storybook, music box.
Deep Breathing/ Blowing   Deep breathing can help to calm a child and may make the procedure easier and faster.
  Bubbles, pinwheel, kazoo, party blower, feathers.
Medical Play   Play is a child's work and it is one way that children cope through their fears and anxieties. It is familiar and comfortable for children. Child Life Specialists who facilitate medical play are educating and assessing a child during medical play.    

Utilizing these coping strategies may lead to:

  • A sense of control over their experience.
  • Positive and effective coping strategies for future health care experiences.
  • Increased self-esteem stemming from participation in their own care.
  • An overall more positive experience.

Ways you can help your child during a medical procedure:

  • Don't be afraid to say what you think will work best for you and your child. You know your child best!
  • Allow and encourage your child to make choices and ask questions about their care.
  • Be honest. Don't say a procedure will not hurt if it will.
  • Praise your child during and after the procedure for doing all the things that are asked of him/her, such as holding still.
  • Hold or sit next to your child to provide a sense of security and warmth during the procedure.
  • Be positive and encouraging to your child!