For some people it can be hard to imagine what the role of a Certified Child Life Specialist might look like outside of a traditional hospital based setting. Many hospital child life programs take years to develop and become fully integrated into the healthcare team.
Shani Thornton is the voice behind Child Life Mommy, a blog about being a mom and a Certified Child Life Specialist. Shani is a true warrior for child-centered healthcare practices and we’re honored she took the time to chat with us about her experiences as a child life professional:
Please share a little about your background and how you became a Child Life Specialist.
I found out about child life when I was doing some research in similar fields. I was a recent graduate from San Diego State University and working as a recreation therapist assistant at the children’s convalescent hospital at Rady Children’s in San Diego. I loved my job, but had a gut feeling that I was supposed to be doing something more with kids in a clinical setting.
Child life was referred to one of our patients to prepare her for an upcoming surgery. As soon as I heard the name and found out about the role, I felt an instant connection and knew, “That’s what I am suppose to be doing!”
Within 6 months, I relocated to New York and was accepted to the Child Life Graduate Program at Bank Street College of Education. I graduated in 2007, became certified and began working in a NYC metropolitan hospital.
Is there a defining or “a-ha” moment in your career you would like to share?
I have had several “ah-ha” moments in my career, from witnessing collaboration between team members that I thought was nearly impossible, to witnessing children fully recover from their illness after a grim prognosis.
The most recent moment has been seeing the child life field begin to expand outside of the hospital walls. I have been able to participate in this shift, by using my skills in a unique way. I created a parenting and child life blog,self-published a children’s book and recently launched a private practice. It is an exciting time for our field and I look forward to seeing it grow.
What made you decide to start blogging about child life?
After having an internal struggle with leaving the hospital as CCLS to become a full-time parent, I decided to develop something that would provide me with a balance for my passion. Creating ChildLifeMommy.com was the perfect way to blend the two together, share information on a large platform, and bring awareness to the field.
What are some simple shifts hospitals, doctors or nurses can make to ensure healthcare is more child and family centered?
Here are a few tips to help medical team members ensure a child and family centered atmosphere:
- Provide children with as much control as possible. Give them lots of choices, both big and small. Do they want to watch during the procedure or look away? Do they want to sit on their parent’s lap? What kind of character Band-Aid do they want? Providing choices will help kids feel a sense of control in an environment where it is very limited.
- Meet a child at their eye level. Kneeling down or sitting in a chair to look them in the eye will help them feel less intimated. Remember to ask them questions about their health and body first versus talking about them to their caregivers.
- Medical team members are the experts in their field, but kids are the experts about themselves. They may be able to provide you with more information that will make a medical procedure or test go smoother. Caregivers are also the experts, especially when they have a child with special needs. They know their child better than any other adult. Ask them about their child’s temperament, likes, dislikes, triggers, and ways to help soothe them. It will help bridge communication, making the child and caregiver feel safe and included.
- Use humor. Kids love to laugh and will feel less stressed when they see a doctor or nurse doing something silly.
What can parents do to help their own children have better healthcare experiences?
Parents and caregivers can help their children have a better healthcare experience when they advocate for their needs. They need to remember that they are the experts on their kids and know them better than anyone else. When they communicate with the medical team and collaborate on ways to best support their child, kids will feel safe and heard. Kids will witness the trust between their parents and the medical team and they will begin to build a rapport as well.