Celebrating Child Life Month

March is ‘Child Life Month’ and a perfect opportunity to celebrate the amazing Child Life Specialists at Children’s Hospital and donors like you that make programs like this a reality!

A Child Life Specialist helps to alleviate the stress and anxiety for both the patient and family that can be involved in a hospital stay. The goal is to provide normalcy in an environment that is extremely different from home.

“We try to provide and maintain regular growing and development while kids are in hospital,” says David Langdon, Clown/Child Life Specialist, Children’s Hospital. “We are seeing a tendency that the kids in hospital are staying a bit longer. A lot of the things that would have been a one or two day stay are now day surgery, so we are seeing more long-term stay kids. In that case, their normal development could be disrupted. Also, when you’re dealing with anxiety and trauma, kids can even experience regression. Child Life providing normal play and developmental opportunities is designed to stem that.”

Child Life Specialists have a solid understanding of normal child development as well as an understanding of medical situations, how they impact this development, and what strategies to employ to address those impacts.

“We feel like an important part of the team,” says David. “We’re not the doctors or nurses, and we know that without those people the kids wouldn’t be here. But we feel our role is an important source of support for the medical personnel, as well as the children and their families. Being a team is a very important part of Children’s Hospital. I think it’s one of the defining features.”

David was hired in 1989 as a Clown/Child Life Specialist, a position that originated in Winnipeg in 1986. Karen Ridd first came up with the occupation and was the initial Therapeutic Clown at Children’s Hospital. She has been recognized internationally as the Mother of Therapeutic Clowning.

In her ground-breaking 1987 paper, ‘There Ought To Be Clowns’, Ridd succinctly describes the beauty and necessity of her craft.

“In the middle of tubes, respirators and mechanical beepings there is then the spectacle of a child and clown, showing that even here life can have its moments of splendour.”

The proud successor of Ridd, David clowns 3 days a week using 2 different personas Hubert and Onri.

Hubert is a mime clown who doesn’t speak and is very childlike.

“I want the young children to identify with Hubert, so he tends to get into situations that mirror the child being out of place in the hospital,” explains David. “Hubert often can’t find his way out of the room and relies on the child to assist him. That reverses the relationship so that the child becomes the care giver, which is very empowering.”

Onri is a speaking clown born out of a model that parodies hospital culture.

“Onri is an inventor and head researcher for Banana-Nirvana Research and Development,” chuckles David. “He goes around with ridiculous inventions and is able to speak to the kids. This allows Onri to expand the age range that the Clown Therapy program impacts.”

The clowns are often introduced to the kids in hospital through the in-house TV network CHTV. The Good Day show, which airs for 55 minutes twice each weekday, features Hubert, Onri, or David along with a very popular puppet called No Name.

For children that can benefit from one on one visits, David also spends a great deal of time on the wards.

“I make sure that I get to every ward at least twice during the week,” says David. “I attend a meeting at the beginning of the week when all of the Child Life Specialists meet with the different wards to help us prioritize visits. If someone is from far away without any family, we will make them a priority. If they have an existing relationship with the clown because they are a chronic patient, or if they are requesting a clown visit, that would also make them a priority.”

Research is proving that Child Life Specialists and Therapeutic Clowning in particular have significant impact on children in hospital.

“We are learning that when kids come through treatment and reflect back on their time in hospital they are not remembering the needle pokes or the procedures,” says David. “They are remembering the puppet No Name, the clown visits and the positive experiences that Child Life provides. The goal of Child Life programming is to provide positive experiences that not only help the kids at the time, but also with how Children’s Hospital is remembered. When kids have even one thing they look forward to, such as the playroom, the clown, or the TV station, then coming back to the hospital is a lot easier for them.”

There are 4 specific programs utilized by Child Life Specialists that rely largely on donor support. They are the Library, Music Therapy, CHTV and the Clown Program.

“I think it’s extremely important that donors continue to support Child Life,” says David. “Through these programs you are having a huge impact on what the experience is like for the child and their family. Sometimes when I’m clowning I am playing with the child through their siblings or their parents. Often I am told that is the first time the child has laughed or smiled since they’ve been here. It’s very impactful.”

That impact is matched by the gratitude Child Life staffers feel for the donors that keep their crucial programs running.

“At Children’s Hospital we want to ensure that children and families’ interactions are positive and that they are emotionally and developmentally supported while in hospital,” says Renée Ethans, CCLS, Manager, Child Life Department, Children’s Hospital. “Our Child Life/Humour Therapy Program is an important therapeutic tool that has been enhancing the day to day experiences of our pediatric patients, families and staff for 31 years! It has become an integral part of everyday life at the hospital and we wouldn’t be here without donor support.  Thank you so much for your continued commitment and kindness!  It is only due to the generosity and dedication of devoted donors that we are able to offer our pediatric patients this supportive, caring, innovative and beneficial service.”

The program’s longevity is a testament to the remarkable difference Child Life Specialists make in the lives of kids in hospital.

“With chronic kids that I see over years, or kids with long admissions or multiple admissions, I have grown along with them,” says David. “I have been here for over 27 years and I have kids that have come through the hospital and now I’m clowning for their children. I feel like I have the best job in the world. I absolutely love it.”

With your support these amazing Child Life Specialists can continue to deliver crucial programs that so positively impact the lives of Manitoba’s sick kids.

Donate today to help keep programs like this thriving!

Thank you to our incredible Child Life Team!