Bringing Play to Chronically Ill Children During a Pandemic

In early March, we were clearly not preprepared for the sideswipe that COVID-19 brought. The unexpected virus created havoc in our communities, hospitals, and homes. As a child life specialist working in private practice, I had to halt my in-person sessions and pivot to a telehealth platform. Then quickly figure out how to create an interactive and therapeutic virtual environment that still followed the highest standards of safety and privacy.

Child life specialists working in hospitals also had similar challenges. Playrooms were closed, strict restrictions on visitations were in place, and patients were isolated in their rooms. It was awful.

Project Sunshine is a nonprofit based out of New York City.  Their mission is to “harness the power of play to support the psychosocial and developmental needs of children and their families as they face medical challenges.” They quickly saw the negative impact that COVID-19 was having on our most vulnerable and decided to pivot their efforts to better support them.

They licensed a healthcare HIPAA compliant Zoom account and allowed many child life programs to use. They also created a TelePlay program for interactive group sessions that are FREE and available to children and teens.

I have had the opportunity to use both. The families I work with were thrilled to continue child life services during our shelter in place orders; creating, expressing, and staying connected during these challenging times.

Learn more about Project Sunshine’s TelePlay program in the guest post below.

Know a child who is hospitalized, or dealing with a medical challenge at home?  In the current environment of the pandemic, it can be overwhelming for children and their families, given the additional hurdles of isolation and social distancing. Dealing with a medical challenge makes things even more difficult. For over 20 years, Project Sunshine has brought play programming to pediatric patients in over 400 medical facilities across the United States.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is one of the most effective methods of reducing stress in kids, allowing their bodies to heal. To continue to support children and families in innovative ways, Project Sunshine has developed a new virtual, safe TelePlay program that provides the healing power of play. Children can choose from a variety of live, interactive games, and activities facilitated by Project Sunshine’s highly trained and vetted volunteers. Games are created for children between the ages of 5-12 and 12-18. Join us for a wide variety of games, from Disney and animal trivia to Scattergories, hidden image, fishbowl, and more!

If you know of any child facing medical challenges in your community that would benefit from TelePlay, they are welcome to sign up for our programs – all they need is a device (a laptop, smartphone, or tablet). A full schedule of activities can be seen here. Patients can join from home and their siblings and caregivers are always welcome. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, all of Project Sunshine’s programs are free for patients.

For additional information please visit our website.

You can sign up for a TelePlay Session by going to the following link: bit.ly/TelePlaySessionSignUp. Or you can download our TelePlay Postcard

Related Articles:

COVID-19 Resource

Project Sunshine’s Holiday Toy Drive

Helping kids get comfortable wearing a mask during COVID-19

Many communities are strongly recommending children and adults to wear masks while out in public. Here are some quick tips to help your kids cope with this new change.

  • Explain what COVID-19 is in simple language that they can understand.
  • Provide opportunities to play and get comfortable with the mask.
  • Give lots of choices.
    • Materials to use
    • Color and design options
    • Decorating
  • Validate their emotions and normalize them.
    • “It is frustrating that we have to wear masks.”
    • “I’m sad too that we have to do this.”

Here is a fun Mask Coloring Page that can also be used to help kids cope with this new experience. If your child has to go to the doctor, they will see medical providers wearing similar protective masks. This is an Activity Sheet that can prepare kids while providing opportunities to feel validated.

Animal coloring sheet created by Sarah Nunnally
Activity sheet created by Emma Fratangelo, MS, CCLS & Stephen Browne

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Supporting Siblings of a Hospitalized Child

Siblings of a hospitalized child often have a mixture of emotions that can cause struggles in their coping skills. There can be a lot of confusion, jealousy, sadness, and anger, along with loneliness and separation anxiety. The focus and attention tend to be on the child that is ill, leaving the healthy children to navigate this medical journey that impacts the whole family. Parents and caregivers are also overwhelmed and need additional support for themselves and the rest of their family.

I’m delighted to introduce a former student of mine, Jessica Torres who is helping to fill this large gap in service by creating a sibling support workbook.

Read more