For most children, Christmas is the best time of the year – they write letters to Santa, make decorations, watch holiday movies and wrap up special gifts for family and friends.
At the IWK, some patients won’t be able to enjoy their favourite holiday activities at home this year. However, the IWK’s Child Life team is working hard to bring the Christmas spirit to them inside the Health Centre. The goal is to let children be children – and not just patients.
“The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families at the IWK, especially if they are separated from loved ones,” explains Chantal LeBlanc, Interim Professional Practice Chief & Coordinator for Child Life at the IWK. “Our goal is to make a family’s hospital experience the best that it can be any time of year, but especially during important family celebration times.”
During the month of December, Child Life organizes Christmas and Hanukkah parties, crafts, carolling, tree decorating, letters to Santa and more. These important activities help bring a sense of normalcy to patients and families as they prepare for and celebrate the holidays – no matter what their beliefs or family traditions.
Child Life is an essential part of the integrated care teams at the IWK year round. While doctors and nurses have stethoscopes and other equipment to do their jobs, child life specialists use play and self-expression as their tools to help children and youth cope with the potential stress or trauma caused by events like the diagnosis of an illness, an injury, the treatment process and hospitalization.
“We use dolls to help a child simulate and understand procedures that they or their sibling will experience, like getting an intravenous. We use different strategies like distraction toys and iPad games to help patients focus on something positive, instead of what is happening during medical procedures, which reduces their anxiety level,” says LeBlanc.
The Child Life team – comprised of child life specialists, child life workers and a therapeutic clown named Buddington – also offer daily programming in several Activity Areas on inpatient floors including a Teen Lounge for youth ages 12 and up. These spaces are medical free zones that give patients a break from the realities of being hospitalized, allowing them the freedom to play, learn and just be kids. The Child Life team can also bring programming to inpatients that are not able to leave their rooms for medical reasons.
“We get to see into a tiny window of the lives of Maritime families, but to help make that time a little bit easier for them is very humbling,” reflects LeBlanc. “This time of year especially, it helps us to value the real spirit of the holiday season, which is to share and to give.”
The Child Life program is a special service at the IWK Health Centre that is supported, in part, by the IWK Foundation, the IWK Auxiliary and other members of the community.
Inside Your IWK is a joint project by the IWK Health Centre and IWK Foundation. To view some of the interview with Chantal LeBlanc, please visit www.Youtube.com/user/IWKHealthCentre.