Sitting in a cold hospital room and coming face-to-face with a doctor in a white coat can be scary for children.
Ahead of flu season, this uneasiness can bubble up and trigger emotional reactions.
To ease the fears surrounding medical interventions for youngsters, the Crowell Public Library invited children aged 2-11 to bring or receive a stuffed animal for a checkup at the Teddy Bear Clinic, which served as a space to share their feelings, explore and play.
Youth services librarian Tera Torres said, as a mother, she knows firsthand how hospital or clinic visits can evoke stress.
“I have kids of my own, so I know there’s a lot of anxiety about going to the doctor and getting those vaccines,” Torres said. “What’s awesome about programs like this is that it gives children ownership of the steps it takes to get vaccinated or examined, and it shows them what to expect when going to the doctor’s office.
“I think it really helps to remove any fear and anxiety they may have, and I’m happy that the library is a safe place where families can come to do that.”
Torres organized the logistics to usher in the Teddy Bear Clinic to the library with Karen de Guzman-Dunn, a registered nurse and community outreach health practitioner with Huntington Hospital. The last event of this kind was 10 years ago, according to Torres, who wanted to breathe new life into post-COVID-19, in-person programming. About 70 families joined in the fun.
“The turnout was wonderful,” Torres said. “From the time we opened until the time we ended, there were a lot of happy families constantly coming through our doors.”
Rose Luna, a certified child life specialist and a parent liaison for the NICU at Huntington Hospital, coordinated the program details with de Guzman-Dunn. They worked with child life program student volunteers from Azusa Pacific University and California State University, Northridge, who sat with each child at the various stations set up to reflect a typical visit at a doctor’s office visit, including registering the patient, taking one’s weight, vital signs, checking the nose and throat, etc. They even projected an X-ray of the teddy bears on the wall to show how broken bones and other ailments are diagnosed.
“Our main goal is to lessen hospital trauma, so providing this Teddy Bear Clinic is a space for kids to do medical play, express themselves and take control of their medical experience, if not, just to expose them to a medical experience,” Luna said.
“We also provide them with coping skills and let them know it’s OK to cry and be scared, while helping them understand that even though we might not like it, these experiences are important for our health.”
A critical component of the clinic was encouraging “medical play” among the kids. To achieve this, the stations offered play and medical materials such as syringes, medicine cups, blood pressure cuffs, gloves, masks, bouffant caps, stickers, doctor kits, bubbles and pin wheels.
“Serving the community and working with families — this is the bread and butter of library service,” said library manager Linda Vera. “It’s so heartwarming … because when you work with children, you have that opportunity to see them learning things for the first time — everything is fresh, and they are so open. To be able to witness them going through these learning exercises, helping them become familiar and teaching them something about the world with their families in this setting, [is] something we are lucky to have.
“Imaginative play gets trivialized as if it is just play, but it really is not. Kids use this opportunity to take ownership, learn and try on these different roles, and I loved watching the way they got to do that, because that is how you get over your own worries and anxieties — you learn to take control over situations.”
First published in the Sept. 14 issue of the San Marino Tribune