You may remember that back in June I began providing coverage in NICU. While I am in no way a child life NICU expert, I wanted to share some tips and tricks in working with this unique population and their families. Luckily, my NICU already had a sibling program set in place when I arrived. Siblings ages 3-12 are able to visit their new baby brother/sister for 1 hour each day after completing the child life sibling program. I, of course, lead the sibling program where I go over why their baby is in the hospital, introduce medical play opportunities along with therapeutic activities, and orient them to the hospital. I then accompany the siblings to their baby’s room and help foster that first connection between the siblings. In doing these sibling visits I’ve witnessed some of the most tender, precious moments and I’m so thankful that I’m able to be a part of it.
Here are some of the things I use during my sibling visits
1. The Big Brother & Big Sister Guide to NICU; this is a workbook I made that goes over everything we need to cover during our sibling program. It includes pictures of things the siblings will see, a dictionary for things they may hear, the rules they must follow while in the NICU, and some therapeutics.
2. Big Sister/Big Brother Award; these I got for free on teacherspayteachers.com. I laminated them and then fill in the sibling and the baby’s name with sharpie; very official!
3. Baggie filled with medical play materials to take home.
5. I’m a big brother/ I’m a big sister stickers
6. “Your New Baby is Here!” coloring book. I found this coloring book on NATUS.com. Not only are they cute, printable, and developmentally appropriate but you can download them in 6 different languages!
7. (not pictured) gold medal to celebrate sibling for being a great big brother/sister.
The other day I had a patient (10yo) come into the ER with her mother and younger sister (6yo) via ambulance for a laceration. The two girls were doing backflips into the pool and well, one of those backflips didn’t end so well. I went into the room and the patient seemed to be coping very well. I provided a procedural teaching for the patient, sibling, and mother, answered her questions, and developed a coping strategy (counting to 10 and taking deep breaths). I also set up the girls with a movie and some coloring sheets to pass the time before the procedure started. When the time came, I was ready to be present for the procedure but noticed that mom was helping her daughter cope very well and that the person that really needed support was the little sister! She was sitting on a chair in the corner covering her ears and shutting her eyes as tightly as she could (the doctor was still setting up her supplies). I asked if it would be alright if little sister and I waited outside and both mom and little sister agreed.
She and I sat at a nearby table outside of sister’s room and made her a Get Well card. It was at this time that little sister started to explain to me how scary it was when her sister hit her head at the pool, how scary the ambulance ride was because they were going really fast, and how she’s scared about what they’re doing to her sister. I addressed all of these fears with little sister, all the while validating her feelings and helping her cope with the scary Sunday she was experiencing. I gave her the opportunity to tell me her side of the story of what happened at the pool. I was able to teach her a little bit about the ambulance and how they help get people to the hospital quickly and safely. And, I did my procedure teaching again, more slowly, and made sure she understood and felt comfortable with the steps. I was even able to show her my Mermaid ( https://adventuresinchildlife.com/2014/07/14/iv-sutures-prep-doll/ ) so that she could see & feel what the sutures would feel like afterwards. In the end she was more relaxed, understanding, and most importantly confident & comfortable to walk back into her sister’s room when the procedure was over.
It’s clear that in this scenario little sister needed support from her Child Life Specialist! It’s easy to develop a “tunnel vision” when working with patients and addressing their needs and concerns but it’s important to always remember to be alert and aware of family members and how they’re coping, too!
“Honest, clear book about typical feelings kids have when a sibling gets sick, and how to cope. For ages 4 & up.”
“These print outs were designed for older siblings who may have a baby brother or sister in the NICU or hospital.”