Katie Taylor is a Certified Child Life Specialist and the CEO and founder of Child Life On Call, has tips to help with talking to kids about tough topics.
What is a Child Life Specialist?
“We are trauma-informed psychosocial care experts who help kids and families cope with challenging life events like a diagnosis, hospitalization, loss of a family member and other stressful situations.
“I’ve been a child life specialist for 13 years and have worked clinically in large and small children’s hospitals and now work in the community focusing on empowering parents during their kids healthcare experiences.
Tell us about your podcast. How did you get started, and what do you cover now?
“‘Child Life On Call’ is a weekly podcast we’ve been sharing for more than 7 years now. It serves as a library of stories from parents who share what it’s like to have a child with an illness, diagnosis or medical condition. Having a child who is sick, ill or injured is incredibly isolating – and sometimes for parents, the best form of medicine is learning from other parents who have walked the path before you.
“Now, Child Life On Call partners with hospitals and organizations to expand child life services through a mobile app and we’ve partnered with hospitals and nonprofits all over the US to empower parents.”
How do we talk to kids about sensitive topics?
“It can feel overwhelming – as a parent myself I completely understand that sometimes saying nothing feels safer than saying something, But, what we know about kids is that they pick up on the stress parents feel regardless of if we do or don’t talk about it. Often, what kids create in their minds is scarier than what the truth is.
“From a child life perspective, I recommend focusing on three simple things:
- Know that the way you make your kids feel during hard conversations is more important than the words you use
- Break down the information in the simplest, most honest terms possible
- Look to your child’s reactions to guide the conversations. Are they asking questions? This means they are in a place ready to learn and understand and what guidance from you. Are they trying to change the subject and play video games instead? This is a child’s way of telling us they’re not ready.
How can we cover something current, for example, what’s happening in Ukraine, or the crisis in Gaza?
“As a child life specialist, I’d recommend paying attention to what your child is already saying about the event or what they may hear from their friends and school. If your child is looking for information about what’s happening, return to what we talked about before, the three points above.
What about discussing grief or loss, especially around the holidays?
“The holidays are so complicated for those who are experiencing a loss, change or big life event – and so what I’d encourage parents to do is to name how they are feeling about it to their child.
“The expectation that holidays should only be filled with joy, wonder and gratitude isn’t realistic and framing it for our kids that way can work against them in the long run. It’s ok to be sad, to cry, to mourn, to grieve, and when we do that as parents and share grief with our child, it let’s them know they can share their grief with us.
“With families experiencing loss, I think having a special spot in the home that a child can go to with their feelings is really helpful – maybe it’s a candle, or a small box of keepsakes, or plain paper with markers in the same spot – it just gives kids somewhere to go to do something with their grief.
“Our Instagram, Child Life On Call, and podcast is a great place for parents to start. In addition to parents sharing stories- we also cover so many topics like how to prepare kids for funerals, how to talk to your kids about surgery and so many others.”