Helping Hospitalized Kids Feel at Ease

By Lauren Wanko

At a glance, this looks like an art class, except here the paint brushes are swapped for syringes.

“It’s just normal spin art but instead of doing it with a normal squirter, we just do it with syringes,” said Sara Auerbach, certified child life specialist.

At K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, Child Life Specialist Auerbach works with patients like 8-year-old James Smith. On this day, he’s learning all about syringes.

“They are exactly what the nurses are using to give the meds, that way he can explore it. It helps him to bust through that anxiety he’s having every time he sees that,” Auerbach said.

James admits sometimes being in the hospital makes him sad.

“You get needles, shots and sometimes they take your blood,” he said.

Still the art project seems to boost his confidence.

“I think I know what they’re doing,” he said.

Auerbach’s a child life specialist — a medical professional trained to help children understand why they’re in the hospital, what the medical team is doing and the treatment plan.

“And we do that in a child-like manner so they understand. We use developmentally appropriate terms and ways of learning,” Auerbach said.

Counseling sessions are tailored to each child’s needs.

“It helps kids to be kids while in the hospital. We try to make it a homelike experience, we try to make it normal. So part of my goal is to help normalize the experience while they are here. That way they are comfortable expressing what’s going on,” said Auerbach.

“Kids in the hospital are already traumatized by being away from home. They’re sick. So anything we can do to make the whole family and the child more at ease, more involved in what’s happening, involved in their care, all that makes not just the experience better, it makes them getting better much more likely,” said K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital Chairman of Pediatrics Dr. Steven Kairys.

Syringe art is just one of the many techniques the child life specialists use.

There’s a new addition here at the Child Life Team. Meet Monty, a patient puppet. And he’s here to make sure the children understand the treatments they’re going to receive at the hospital. You can actually insert a feeding tube in his nose, take his tonsils out and you can even feel his veins.

“The kids can talk to Monty and kinda act it out with him and explore the new tools on their body, whether it’s a feeding tube or a breathing tube,” Auerbach said.

For a moment, James has become Dr. James.

“If you’re a patient in the hospital you gotta get medicine,” he said.

A patient turned doctor who seems to understand he’s here to get better.