Photo by jurvetson from Flickr
To an outsider, it might appear that child life specialists just carry around lots of random toys. And, sometimes, if things are really crazy you do have to grab what is available and close at hand. But most of the time, CCLS choose activities, toys, and distraction items very carefully based on the goals of the interaction and the age/developmental level of the patient. So, I thought I'd highlight items that are useful in a series of postings called Tools of the Trade.
To begin: Bubbles. Indispensable. They are inexpensive, have great distraction capabilities, and people of all ages love them. There is something really magical and delightful about delicate, floating bubbles. I keep small bottles of party favor bubbles with me pretty much all the time. Here are some of the ways I think they are most useful:
1. Building rapport, especially with very young or frightened children. Blowing and popping bubbles is a familiar activity to most kids and helps reinforce the idea that you are not there to poke or prod them. Bubbles lighten the mood.
2. For distraction during short procedures. For children who do not want to watch a blood draw, IV insertion or other short procedure, bubbles are great. They provide a visual focal point that is a good complement to conversation and encouragement.
3. To encourage deep breathing. Having the child blow bubbles can be a great way to demonstrate and practice deep breathing. You can show how a deep intake and slow, gentle breathing out produces many bubbles. This technique can be used during key parts of difficult procedures as a way to help children relax and cope.
4. To aid guided imagery or serve as a point of focus in pain management. You can use bubbles in many different ways as part of guided imagery/pain management. You can use bubbles to teach deep breathing, helping the child remain calm and more relaxed. You can have the child imagine floating like a bubble, or imagine "blowing away" their pain. Having something concrete to focus on can help children maintain attention.
Bubbles are a great tool, but you should always check with your hospital area regarding their use. Some units serving immunocompromised patients may not allow bubbles as part of infection control (this is often because the water in the bubble solution might not be clean). You can ask about the possibility of creating your own "clean" solution for use in these areas.