Bedford resident Kelly Saunders, age 9, used a coping kit during her recent visit to Emerson Hospital’s emergency department.

CONCORD, Mass. — In a recently launched pilot program, Emerson Hospital is distributing pediatric coping kits, which are colorful bags of toys given to all children who enter the hospital through the emergency department or upon admission to pediatrics. In the four months since the program was piloted, 610 kits have been distributed.

Color-coded for age and gender, the kits are designed with an understanding of the developmental needs of children and the stressors encountered by a child entering a medical environment.

“Stressors include fear of separation, fear of pain, loss of control, intimidating surroundings and loss of privacy,” said Kay Liebmann, nurse coordinator of Emerson Hospital’s Pediatric Intervention Team. “The coping kits help children and parents cope more successfully with the hospital experience.”

Though the contents of the kits are age- and gender-specific, each kit includes a toy for distraction, a tool which encourages relaxation and deep breathing, an item for comfort, a focus object and a tool for communication and self-expression. The tools used to implement these coping strategies include bubbles, pinwheels, books, squeeze balls and play clay. Each kit also offers an educational component for parents with a card that details pain management and comfort techniques based on the age of the child.

“The kits empower children and allow them to become active participants in their own care,” said Liebmann. “They provide parents with techniques and methods for helping their child cope with medical interventions. Nurses experience enhanced care-giver relationships and doctors report that their pediatric patients feel less anxious during examinations.”

The kits serve an important function by making a hospital visit more tolerable for a child. “The pediatric coping kits make a stressful visit or wait time much better,” said Dr. Deborah Greene, an Emerson Hospital emergency physician. “It has been so nice to be able to do this for our patients, and it is much needed. It is really amazing to see the benefits to our small patients.”

Nothing provides more salient affirmation of the benefits of the coping kits than the experience of a frightened child in the emergency room. Bedford resident Paula Saunders, RN, associate nurse manager in Emerson Hospital’s emergency department (ED), brought her 9-year-old daughter, Kelly, to the ED in the middle of the night with symptoms of a urinary tract infection.

“We came into the emergency department tired, and Kelly was apprehensive of what may happen,” said Saunders. “The nurse who took care of her explained what needed to be done and then she gave Kelly a coping kit. Kelly was anxious but was distracted and involved with the kit’s supplies. She was treated and we were on our way home when she said with a smile, ‘Mom, I can play with this kit when I am home from school tomorrow.’ This kit and the kind actions of Emerson’s staff changed a difficult personal experience into a positive interaction.”

The profound regard for the emotional health of a child is critical as pediatric patients navigate their way through the continuum of care. “This is not just a bag of toys,” said Mallory Harrison, Emerson Hospital child life specialist. “The kits help transform a daunting medical world into an environment that the child can understand and master.”

The Pediatric Intervention Team at Emerson is a multidisciplinary group that consists of a children’s life specialist, a child and adolescent psychiatric nurse, and a consulting child psychiatrist. The Team recognizes the unique psychosocial needs of hospitalized children and their families. The services the team provides are based on the emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy to young adulthood. Through careful preparation and continuing support, the team aims to minimize a child’s anxiety in the health care environment and promote opportunities for growth and mastery of the hospital experience.