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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Medical Education and Support

Surgery and other hospital procedures or experiences can be scary, even for older children. Knowing what to expect beforehand gives you and your child the opportunity to ask questions and prepare for what's ahead.

Preparation for Surgeries, Procedures, and Hospitalization

Our team of specialists provides individual teaching sessions to prepare children, teens, and their families for surgery and other procedures. Teaching is provided at a level appropriate for the development of each patient and may include the use of medical play, teaching dolls, educational books, and real medical equipment to help familiarize the patients with what they will see, hear, and feel. Specialists work closely with each patient to answer questions, clarify misconceptions, and enhance the patient's coping skills.

We teach children various relaxation and distraction techniques that they can use during their procedures. Deep breathing, counting, blowing bubbles, or focusing their attention on an object or thought can give children and teens a greater sense of control during anxiety provoking or painful experiences. 

Many teaching sessions also include the use of special dolls called "Shadow Buddies" to help children better understand their illness and treatment. Shadow Buddies were created with the idea that children undergoing serious surgery or treatment need a "friend" that is just like them. These dolls give children a way to identify and relate to their situation.

Medical Play

Child Life specialists recognize the value of medical play in helping children cope before and after hospitalization, surgery, and illness. These play opportunities help children work through their anxieties, gain a sense of control, and become better prepared for various procedures.

As a parent, you can encourage medical play so that your child can work through their medical experiences at home, too. You may:

  • Buy a toy doctor kit and let your child use a doll or stuffed animal as a pretend patient.
  • Let your child use common household medical supplies, such as Band-Aids and cotton balls, as play materials.
  • Talk with your child and help him or her play out some of the things he or she may have experienced or will experience in the hospital.
  • Involve siblings in medical play and discussions about your child's medical care.
  • Give your child books or activities about going to the doctor or hospital. Read them together and encourage your child to draw pictures about the hospital.

Emergency Department Support

An emergency room visit often causes sudden anxiety and fear of the unknown in patients and families. Our emergency department Child Life specialist is available to provide support, education, and distraction during ER visits. We provide support for the patients and families during wait times, while in triage, and during exam room experiences.

If a young patient is admitted, the ER Child Life specialist is available to provide support and ease the transition to the child's inpatient room.