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Child life specialists: Improving your child’s hospital visit

child life specialist with little boy patient

As certified child life specialists with Beaumont Children’s, our role in the hospital is unique. We are trained professionals in the developmental impact of illness and injury. But what does that even mean?

What we do

Child life specialists help infants, children, youth and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement. We provide evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions, which include therapeutic play; preparation for procedures; and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain. We work with the multidisciplinary team, as well as the entire family, to meet the needs of patients, siblings and parents alike to promote a culture of family-centered care throughout all hospital encounters.

We help children by:

  • Educating them on diagnosis, procedures and treatment plans through the use of medical play.
  • Preparing for tests, procedures, and/or surgeries (patients, siblings and family).
  • Supporting them during invasive procedures through the use of distraction and coping skills.
  • Engaging patients in therapeutic and expressive activities to help them cope with fears and anxiety.
  • Advocating for the unique needs of patients and families during and after hospitalization.
  • Promoting family-centered care through psychosocial and emotional support.
  • Normalizing the hospital environment in an effort to promote optimal growth and development.

child life specialist drawing with a young patient and her mom

In order to create a comforting and normalizing environment for patients and families, our department provides additional services. These include pet therapy visits, daily recreational activities that give patients an opportunity to meet and socialize with one another, and special events like our annual holiday parties and Dream Cruise Parade. We also have a schoolteacher and board-certified music therapist on staff.

Where we work within the hospital

Beaumont child life specialists cover multiple areas, including the Center for Children’s Surgery, Pediatric Oncology and Hematology, the inpatient Pediatric and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Short Stay and the Emergency Center. We also have part-time coverage at Beaumont, Troy in its inpatient pediatric unit and emergency center.

Our department attempts to see all children who are hospitalized to provide an assessment of their coping and psychosocial needs. Much like other disciplines, we receive consults from the medical team for patients and families in need.

child life specialist working with young boyChild Life Services is able to do this with the support of Children’s Miracle Network. We hope to expand our services in the future to reach all pediatric patients in Beaumont Health, including the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, pediatric specialty clinics, Pediatric Radiology, etc. We truly love what we do as well as the patients and families we serve! 

Favorite moments from our child life specialists

  • “I had a patient who was afraid of her anesthesia mask. I built rapport with the patient and got her to engage in activities with me to build rapport and trust. I provided preparation with the anesthesia mask to help her become familiar with it. I was able to have her lay down while I was blowing bubbles at her. In the end, she was breathing with the anesthesia mask on while popping bubbles to make it less traumatic.”
  • “We had a 4-year-old who refused to walk admitted to the pediatric unit. She wouldn’t even walk to the playroom. We brought in our pet therapy dog and she walked the dog around the unit multiple times.”
  • “A 7-year-old in the emergency room was screaming and crying whenever a nurse tried to touch her cut. I overheard the nurse say they were going to sedate this patient in order to clean out her wound. After talking calmly with this little girl and explaining (in a developmentally appropriate manner) the procedure of cleaning out her wound, she realized it wasn’t so scary. She engaged in deep breathing with me as the nurse cleaned and wrapped her cut without having to sedate her.”
  • “There was an 11-year-old patient who had severe second degree burn. The patient was extremely anxious and fearful of the painful daily dressing changes and physical therapy sessions. After a medical play session and extensive preparation, the patient worked with me to come up with a positive coping plan that included deep breathing, use of a stress ball, parental presence, and taking 10-second breaks every minute. All of these things helped with coping and compliance with the treatments she was undergoing during this stressful hospitalization.”
  • “A 10-year-old patient came to the emergency center and needed an IV. Her nurse informed me that this patient was very anxious and could use child life services for preparation and procedural support. I worked with this patient by providing education, preparation, and familiarization so that she knew what to expect during the procedure. To provide her with more control and mastery, she performed the procedure on a medical play doll before her own IV start. When it came time for her IV, she was no longer anxious and knew exactly what to expect and how to help make it less painful with deep breathing and distraction.”
  • “I helped create a school program that was manageable for a heart transplant patient. All of his second semester of senior year was spent inpatient. Even though every day was a challenge for him, he was able to graduate on time with his class!” – Schoolteacher
  • “I have many favorite memories of being a music therapist, but there are two that stand out above the rest. My first memory is of a cancer patient using songwriting through her journey and how she used music to express her emotions. The second is developing a heartbeat bereavement program to give parents the gift of music and a piece of their child to hold on to.” – Music Therapist

– Beaumont Children’s Child Life Team: Lisa Kristoff (CCLS), Rose Freigeh (CCLS), Michelle Staubach (CCLS), Amanda Lefkof (CCLS), Jenn Ernst (CCLS), Caroline Wall (CCLS), Holly Platis (MT-BC), Janis Traynor (Schoolteacher), Kathleen Grobbel (CCLS, Manager)

Helping your child through difficult times

sad girl holding teddy bear

Life happens!

Life events (whether good, bad, or ugly) are sometimes difficult to deal with and often stressful to children. Why? Our children try to make sense of what is happening to them or around them and can have difficulty understanding and adapting.

Stressful times

Even as adults, there are times when we seek understanding and reassurance that what has happened to us is something that others have also experienced. However, children may not have the life experiences and knowledge of events such as death, or divorce. They may be unaware that other children their age have experience with these events.

Other times, people in our lives who we consider friends may be mean to us and cause us to be anxious or afraid. Being the target of a bully or watching a bully incite fear in another is not a pleasant thing to see and can be confusing to a child.

Then there are also the occasions that children need to learn from their mistakes. Learning to share, be a friend, and self-awareness are also characteristics that we hope to instill in our children.

Helping make sense of difficult situations

As parents we take pride in taking care of our children. We often think we are helping them with their problems by our daily talks at the dinner table or at bedtime just before tucking them in with that last good night kiss.

We try to explain things to our children. We talk to their teachers or care givers and do what we can to make the situation better for them. Innately, we don’t like to see our children struggle with things that we may perceive as a natural part of growing up.

A child’s behavior speaks volumes. When a child struggles with something, we often see acting out, crying more often, or even withdrawal. To a child, his problem is very real and he is seeking ways to deal with his feelings. Oftentimes, a child will feel alone or like he is the only one who has had these experiences. But knowing that others their age have experienced the same issues can help a child get through these difficult events in their life. Like adults, children need tools to help them understand what is happening in their world.

Books as tools

As adults, we seek out books and resources to help us when we need a better understanding of what we’re facing. We need to remember that books are valuable tools for people of all ages.

Books can be a key to unlock those feelings of fear, isolation or sadness to a child. They can validate a child’s feelings and empower him to handle issues that come his way.

There are many developmentally appropriate books to help our children over the hurdles to gain insight and understanding. The spectrum of books ranges from simple picture books to chapter books with characters solving their problem.

Below is a list of challenges that occur in all of our lives, along with selected books that may be helpful to your child.

Death of a loved one

Death of a pet






Individual uniqueness


 Overcoming Challenges



Coping with a disability 

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.


Spicy maple turkey breast with quick pan sauce

spiced maple turkey

image credit:

Ingredients for the turkey:

  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 (1 ½ pound) skinless, boneless turkey breast cutlets
  • Cooking spray

Ingredients for the sauce:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 ¼ cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions for the turkey:

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Add turkey, turning to coat.
  4. Marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove turkey from marinade and discard marinade.
  5. Place a rack inside a roasting pan; coat rack lightly with cooking spray. Arrange turkey on rack.
  6. Bake at 450° F for 25 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 155° F.
  7. Remove from oven. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut turkey diagonally across the grain.

Directions for the sauce:

  1. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil; swirl skillet to coat.
  2. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Combine stock and flour in a bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  4. Add stock mixture to onion mixture, stirring with the whisk. Bring to a boil; cook for 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly.
  5. Remove from heat; stir in ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  6. Serve sauce with turkey.


Makes 8 servings. (Serving size equals 4 ounces turkey breast and 1 ounce of sauce. Each serving counts as 1 protein and 1 fat.)

Nutrition analysis per serving:

Calories:  250
Fat:  4 g
Saturated Fat:              0 g
Trans Fat:                    0 g
Cholesterol:                 65 mg
Sodium:                       470 mg
Carbohydrate:             8 g
Fiber:                           0 g
Sugar:                          0 g
Protein:                        43 g

Respect is learned AND earned

mom and son looking at each other

Beans. That’s what started this blog post. Beans.

My daughter and I were at the vegetable market and she was helping me pick green beans. As we were putting them into a bag, another woman just stepped in front of my child and proceeded with her shopping. No “excuse me,” or offer to share the space. Just a complete disregard for my daughter.

A short time after that, I was home with both kids and things were getting heated. In my frustration, my tone changed and it wasn’t for the better. It was almost as if I had an out-of-body experience and could hear myself talking to my kids. I very distinctly remember thinking, “You know, if someone talked to you like this, you’d be [insert bad word for very upset].”

I calmed down and worked on the way I was speaking.

And just the other day, I was in my kids’ class helping out. I saw one kid tell another to shut up as he lightly hit another across the face.

All of these instances are infuriating to me. That someone—anyone—thinks so little of a child that common courtesy is forgotten. That I wouldn’t treat another human being, no matter what their age, with the same respect that I would expect. That learned behaviors readily spill out into the classroom.

As adults, why do we think children don’t deserve common, decent behavior? Sure, kids can be frustrating and maddening, but to not treat them as an equal on the human scale is, well, I can’t find the words.

No, kids can’t vote. They have no “rights” and no defenders. Except us. The grown-ups. But that’s no reason to be a bully and it certainly doesn’t give us, the responsible ones, carte blanche to treat them however we want.

If the past six years of mothering have taught me anything, it’s that kids learn by example. They’re parrots and sponges. It’s up to us to teach them about respect and how it should be for everyone until proven otherwise. That treating another person with decency is really the only decent thing to do. And if we just can’t bring ourselves to do that, we just need to walk away and try another time.

The world teaches its lessons via the School of Hard Knocks. Let’s agree to give our kids a leg up and work on promoting more kindness and understanding. Discipline that teaches, not just punishes. Courtesy that extends to everyone. Not just adults.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Selecting age-appropriate books for your newborn to 18-month old

toddler looking at book

Reading is something that always came naturally to my family. When my children were in the womb, I read and sang to them. Books were in every room in our home —whether in a bin, on a shelf, on the coffee table, or in the bookcase.

I truly believe that in order to raise your child to be a reader, reading to them is essential. However, I take it one step further. Children model what they see. Making time for you to read daily is another key in developing our children as readers.

As my children grew up, they discovered that my favorite book is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. We read that book until the pages were taped, smudged and missing. When I retired from teaching, they gave me the most precious gifts that I have ever received: My son hand-painted a scene from the book and the kids wrote a most touching message. They also had someone craft a necklace of the tree; the tree was made of wire and the apple was a beautiful, shiny red bead. How touched I was that my gift incorporated our love of books and reading! I will forever treasure those gifts.

Many parents stop reading to their children once they know how to read themselves. However, something magical happens when you continue to share that bond. Through the years, my son and I found authors that we both enjoy. Even now, across the miles and states, we still decide to start a book together and read our favorite parts to each other. This leads to rich discussions on books that we share.

Here are some suggestions for selecting age-appropriate books for your child.

0 to 6 months

Babies enjoy books to relax. Snuggling with you and hearing your voice is calming to your child.


  • Baby’s vision isn’t fully developed, so choose books with larger pictures and contrasting, bold colors, with little or no text.
  • Older babies in this age range enjoy interactive books that use mirrors and puppets.
  • The sound and rhythm of speech is crucial for developing baby’s oral language skills.
  • Most importantly, uninterrupted time with your baby is what’s most important. Turn off the tv and phone.

Book Suggestions

7 to 12 months

Babies are beginning to understand vocabulary and illustrations from everyday life and will put together the word “dog” with a picture they see in a book.


  • Choose books to stimulate baby’s senses. Books with varying textures, scents, or sounds are perfect for this stage of development.
  • Oral language is emerging and baby may babble back to you. Books with a single word and picture help develop language skills.
  • Read books with sound patterns to further develop language.
  • Nursery rhymes and books with simple sentences are great choices.
  • A book’s durability is important at this stage!
    • Look for books that are waterproof, resistant to drops and throws, tear-resistant, and chew-proof.
    • Fabric books are always good as they can be thrown into the washing machine and dryer.

Book Suggestions

13 to 18 months

Have fun and be silly with books!


  • Early toddlers love looking at pictures of animals and making the animal noise with you.
  • Books with a few sentences on a page is appropriate.
  • Interact with rhyme and rhythm of words and sounds.
  • A 15- or 16-month-old child is beginning to use speech. Books can be used to help develop and expand expressive language skills.
    • Point to a picture and ask your child what the picture is of.
    • For example, let’s say the picture is of a cat, and your child replies, “Cat.” You can tell them, “That’s a big, fat cat.”
    • Offer many opportunities to practice this while reading.

Book Suggestions

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

A season of change

house for sale

In most homes with school-age children, fall is a season of change. But in our family, these past few months have provided a little too much change.

This past summer, we left Michigan to return to our home state of Connecticut. It was our second big move in three years and although it felt good to be coming home, the move was (and still is for that matter) particularly hard on my two teenagers. In fairness, there was a lot of newness: new town, new house, new school, new job, new sports team, new friends. I also felt overwhelmed by all the changes, but as the captain of this ship, I had to be mindful about my reaction.

Here are a few tips I have learned after five moves with kids.

  • Convey the expectation that your kids can adjust, adapt, and yes, be just as happy. If I’m consistent with this expectation, then my message is that I have faith in their ability to be successful in the transition.
  • Don’t sit too long with the negative emotions around the change. When I ask them about their day and the response is negative, I will shift the conversation to something positive, even if the one positive is something totally superficial like the school lunch was good.
  • Stay in the here and now; try not to let your child focus too much on the past. Memories are fun to share and laugh about, but then we turn our attention to the present and work to create new memories in our new space.
  • Let your children have some ownership in decorating their new bedrooms. I gave my two older kids a reasonable budget and they had fun decorating their rooms in a way that didn’t constantly remind them of their old bedrooms.
  • Be patient and consistent. I have found in all our moves, older children take longer to adjust. I stay mindful about my own language when it comes to the changes we are experiencing as a family. I set the tone for the kids so I try to keep it positive and optimistic when they are within listening distance.

We aren’t out of the woods yet. None of my kids are saying they love it back here in Connecticut. But I’m confident that the winter months will bring a sense of familiarity and comfort that the fall did not. And although I’m proud of my kids for being adaptable, I think we’re going to sit tight for a while.

– Andree Palmgren is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Westport, Conn. A Parenting Program volunteer, she is also a mom to a 15, 13, 9 and 5 year old.

Hand washing: Instilling healthy habits in your children

mom teaching boy to wash hands

Hand washing is one of the most important preventative measures that everyone can take to stay healthy. Making this part of a routine from an early age can help prevent many future illnesses. While it can take only a few seconds for your little ones to accidentally infect themselves from dirty hands, the resulting illness can last days to weeks. So take the time now to prevent those lengthy illnesses as we focus on the importance of hand washing.

Teaching kids about germs

Proper hand washing can remove germs that lead to illness but the idea of germs can admittedly be a bit abstract for young children. In my family, we often look to books when embarking upon a new adventure and there are plenty of books about hand washing—including “Germs Are Not for Sharing” by Elizabeth Verdick—that are perfect for a young audience.

For older, school-age children, glitter or washable paint are cool visuals for demonstrating the spread of germs. Try this fun project to help visualize the spread of germs, although I think I might save this lesson for the summertime when it can be done outside.

When should we wash hands?

As a general guideline, hand washing should occur:

  • Before and after playing with other children
  • After playing outside
  • After touching a pet
  • After using the bathroom
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • Before and after eating

While hand sanitizer is great in some situations, it isn’t always best. Children’s hands are often visibly dirty; soap and water will remove dirt and soil unlike hand sanitizer. However, if you are on the go, hand sanitizer can be very helpful when water is not accessible.

Making it fun

Hand washing should take about 20 seconds, which is about the length of time it takes to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice. I like to use these lyrics to make it more fun for my children:

Wash, wash, wash my hands

I can wash my hands

Washy, washy, washy, washy

Now I’ll wash some more

Wash, wash, wash my hands

I can wash my hands

Washy, washy, washy, washy

Now my hands are clean

While singing the song, the following steps should be done to ensure clean hands:

  1. Roll sleeves up
  2. Thoroughly wet hands
  3. Place a dollop of soap on hands
  4. Scrub fronts and backs of hands
  5. Rinse
  6. Thoroughly dry on a disposable towel

Other helpful tips

  • Place a step stool near the sink and put soap within arm’s reach, so hand washing is more accessible for smaller children.
  • Rewarding children with a sticker (for step stool decorating) after proper hand washing can make hand washing more fun for toddlers when they’re learning and in that “do it myself” phase.
  • Letting children pick the scent of the soap can give them something to look forward to as well.

Take the time now to instill this healthy habit into your routine and it can pay dividends in your family’s future health.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.



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