Parenting Project: Child Life Specialists - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Parenting Project: Child Life Specialists

MADISON (WKOW) -- Not many people like going to the hospital when they're sick, and for children it can be terrifying. But parents can worry a little less when their healthcare provider has a child life specialist on staff.

Not everyone's heard of a child life specialist unless you had a child go to the hospital. But they can really make a difference in how a kid handles any procedure and their attitude toward doctors when they grow up. Kat Davis is a child life specialist at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison. She says, "This is really common with adults now. They don't want to go into the doctors; they hate doctors. I think people have the fear as adults because of something that happened to them as children."

Davis tries to prevent traumatic experiences and she does it with something kids know about: playing. "Sometimes going into the O.R. means going into a spaceship, you know, that mask is your spaceman mask. Sometimes if kids know who Smurfs are, everybody's a Smurf because we like the color blue here for our scrubs."

Davis says it's the unknown that makes most kids afraid, so telling them what's going to happen makes them less stressed. "We use surgical masks, medical hats, anesthesia masking, and incorporate it into play that they do and that normalizes the experience for them so when they go into the O.R. and see everyone wearing the hats, the masks, the gloves, it's not scary anymore cause it's something they've already seen and had fun with."

Davis works with parents too, talking about how they can help their child or about what's going on, so they're less anxious. She says her methods can eliminate the need for anesthesia during procedures like an MRI and get children out of the hospital faster. "Not every parent comes in knowing what to expect or even how to comfort their child during a painful procedure."

Many hospitals and health care clinics in the Madison area already have child life specialists on staff.

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