NORFOLK -- Children confront a wide variety of stressful and potentially traumatic events that can overwhelm their ability to cope.

CHKD child life specialist Haley Brown says play is essential to the physical, intellectual and emotional development of children especially hospitalized children.

What is a Child Life Specialist?
Many children's hospitals, including CHKD, have child life departments. Child Life Specialists are trained professionals who help children cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness, injury, disability and hospitalization.
We are trained in the areas of child and family development, counseling, psychology and education.
We work to ensure that life remains as normal as possible for children in health care settings.
We can often be found in inpatient units, emergency and surgical departments providing diagnosis education, sibling support, legacy building at end of life, as well as preparation and distraction during invasive procedures.

Why is the power of play so effective in this role?
We use play, medical equipment, books, and other activities to help patients and their families gain a better understanding of what is going to happen so they can cope with whatever they face in the healthcare setting.
Play helps children feel more comfortable and helps to normalize the hospital environment.
The Child Life Specialist does this through regular play sessions, games and by assisting with our pet therapy program. We strive to create safe play environments where kids can be kids. Research shows that children who engage in therapeutic play with a trained professional exhibit less emotional distress and increased cooperation.

What can parents do to help to their children cope?
As child life specialists at CHKD, teaching coping techniques is one of our most important jobs.
Help children learn about what it going to happen. Read books and become informed. At CHKD we provide pre-surgical tours that allow your child to explore and become familiar with what to expect day of surgery.
Most importantly, be honest! Children don't need every detail, but they do need to know what they are going see, feel, taste and smell. This is important for everything and is essential to a successful trip to CHKD.
Creating diversions helps: a bottle of bubbles, pop-up books, a favorite stuffed animal, a squeeze ball help children cope.
Teach breathing techniques: Have children pretend they are blowing out their 'finger candle' or 'blowing up a balloon.' It's a great way to get kids to take a deep breath, which is essential to calming down.

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