Helping children build resilience and bounce-back

February 6, 2020

Although it’s been less than a year, Esther Huang, a certified Child Life Specialist at North York General Hospital (NYGH), is making a big impact on some of the hospital’s youngest patients and their families.

It’s hard to miss the enthusiasm and dedication Esther brings to her role; qualities well noted by her colleagues.

Esther took a moment to sit down with The Pulse to answer a few questions about her role.

How would you describe your role to those in the community?

Based out of NYGH’s Maternal Newborn and Paediatric Care program, a Child Life Specialist allies with the medical staff, to help children and families cope with hospitalization. I help advocate for the social and emotional needs of a child or teen. A hospital visit is an opportunity for a child to build an understanding of what is happening around them and explore coping strategies, so the experience is less traumatic. I also respond to consults in other areas of care such as, our Paediatric Ambulatory Clinic and Tippet Foundation Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I work with the care team to develop a supportive plan conducive to the patient’s needs. In addition to my clinical role, I organize donations, coordinate events and have administrative duties. 

How do you help children reduce stress or anxiety?

Difficult or unexpected experiences, such as hospitalization can trigger stress in children. I provide developmentally appropriate interventions, including therapeutic play. It can offer an outlet for expression and is a form of interpretation. Once I identify how to support the child, we can work towards minimizing some of the fears and pain, through education and preparation.

How do you get parents involved?

Patient- and Family-Centred Care is such an important component of health care delivery at North York General and integration of parents is key to managing these experiences. I recognize the family is a constant in the child’s life and part of my job is to encourage collaboration and involvement wherever possible. For example, during medical procedures, I enlist the help of the parents to provide physical and emotional comfort, while I engage the child to use coping strategies we developed together.

What is your educational background and how did it lead to your current role?

I have a Post-Graduate diploma in Child Life Paediatric Psychosocial Care from McMaster University; it’s the only program in the country. I’ve worked in different health care settings across the greater Toronto Area, including The Hospital for Sick Children, Ronald McDonald House Toronto, and Trillium Health Partners’ Credit Valley Hospital.

I went to a performing arts school for eight years where I studied drama, dance, art, and music. My performing arts background really helps me connect with patients on a creative level. For example, when working with an adolescent during a long hospital admission, I would implement creative programming such as teaching the ukulele, making elaborate crafts, and sharing new hobbies.

I’ve learned so much from my work with children. When given the appropriate support, children can build resilience and bounce-back from stress-inducing experiences. They have many intellectual and emotional capacities that adults often underestimate, like the ability to understand illness and death.

What excites you most about your role?

I have the means and the support to carry out initiatives for quality paediatric care. Drawing from my previous experiences in different health care settings, I can pull ideas from innovative programs and really improve the patient experience in our hospital. I’m also passionate about facilitating difficult conversations with children and families, such as an impending or unexpected death of a loved one. My role is to help children understand death in an age-appropriate way, while ensuring they possess the tools to express emotions. For most kids, making memories and building legacies, such as family hand print art gives them a practical way to cope.

I also really enjoy celebrating special occasions and holidays with patients and their families. Birthdays and Christmas are huge on the unit; we really try to bring some of the magic to the hospital setting.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

Well I’m a mom, so I have to save a lot of my energy for a busy toddler.

I’m also a big believer in self-care, so I practice yoga. That’s important to me. I also have a bucket-list I’m working my way through. At the moment, I’m trying to read one book per month. A nice mix of work related content, parenting books, and pure leisure young adult literature.  I have to remain really up-to-date with the hottest trends for all age groups. As an example of my dedication, I was in line on opening night of Frozen 2 and subscribed to Disney+ the moment it became available.