Bear Hugs: Engaging Families to Create a More Comforting Experience

With the help of philanthropic support, Children’s National’s child life team and nurses have raised the bar on how we care for kids. Some routine medical procedures— having blood drawn, an IV inserted, or nearly anything involving needles—can be scary to children no matter how brave they are. At these times when they must remain still, kids would rather be hugged than restrained. Parents are taught to perform Bear Hugs Comfort Hold, which calm and relax children facing even the most difficult procedures. Not only do they help the child get through stressful moments, Bear Hugs also bring parents and family members into the medical process. It is a natural fit, according to Terry Spearman, Child Life Services Manager at Children’s National. In the past, parents often did not want to be associated with the pain their child was experiencing. Now, parents are welcomed and invited by health-care providers to be directly engaged in a comforting way with their child during these procedures. When a parent uses a Bear Hug, it is much more reassuring and comforting since Mom or Dad is someone well known, trusted, and loved who is helping to keep the child still. The child and parent have more control over the experience with the use of a Comfort Hold, and the child experiences less emotional trauma. A Children’s National staff member and parent says this about the difference Bear Hugs made with her child during treatment: “Using Bear Hugs with my daughter, who was 13 months old at the time, made all the difference in her comfort during the procedure. She appeared more relaxed by having me hold her while also being in a position that was good for staff. I felt empowered and a part of her care in a way that was second nature to me, just holding my baby. I will never forget that experience.”

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