When I was in the hospital, I was in charge of planning and executing our child life halloween festivities. This was usually a day filled with adrenaline and sugar! It was wild, fun, exhausting, and totally worth it.
I love that child life specialists take normalization to a whole new level. When we plan a holiday, we PLAN a holiday. And we make sure that everyone from the Emergency Department to the NICU is involved and celebrating. But this can be tricky….
Things to consider:
- Infection Control
- Once COVID hit we had to rethink all of our holiday celebrations, including the Halloween parade.
- How do make sure that patients in isolation are still able to participate in events and festivities?
- Bereavements/Traumas/Tough Cases
- I worked in the PICU and we never knew what the unit was going to look like when it came to holidays and events. We always had to be prepared to pivot on the day-of if there was a bereavement or other challenging case. We wanted to be respectful to the families there.
- One year, I did have a bereavement happening at the back of the unit. The family was familiar with the hospital and our Halloween celebration as they were frequently in the hospital. After speaking with the nursing staff and family, we agreed to change the parade route so that the patients at the front of the unit could participate while the family at the back had some privacy. We were lucky enough to have a family there that truly wanted to make sure the other patients had the opportunity to participate.
- Outpatient Units
- What about those quick visits through the ED or the hem/onc clinic? What about the staff there that want to participate?
- We frequently adjusted activities and giveaway bags throughout the year to make sure they were included.
- Holiday crafts were always made in a grab-and-go bag so that all units could have access to the fun.
- Celebrations in the longer-term units could last days! If I knew a child was going to be in the PICU and they celebrated Halloween we would start prepping their room and costume several days in advance! This gave them something to really look forward to and a way to participate in normalizing their space. But again, I had to be thinking ahead for them.
- Dietary restrictions
- What about those that are NPO? Or new diabetics? We had to create signs and ways of communicating dietary preferences without singling out a patient or eliminating the fun when it came to special events.
- Cultural Differences
- Not every family is going to celebrate every holiday or celebrate the same holiday in the same way. We had to be very in tune with our families and communicate appropriately.
- When planning Halloween, we always had to first ask if they celebrate Halloween before assuming that they do.
- Volunteer engagement
- Many of these large-scale events would not be possible without volunteers. But, having them means you have to plan! Volunteers need very clear communication and guidelines when coming to the hospital for an event. What will they wear? What role will the play? Where will they store their stuff? All of these things need to be considered and communicated to them prior to the event.
- Community engagement
- People love to give back to children in the hospital. We had a lot of community engagement at my hospital and many people wanted to be involved. This could be challenging. So, we had to find successful ways for the community to be engaged while also maintaining the privacy and support that families need in the hospital. Not every child wants to be featured on the news while they have on a hospital gown and an NG tube!
The bottom line is that every hospital celebration or special event requires careful planning and being intentional with your activities. With experience, you will get better at anticipating the challenges and planning ahead. But, these are just a few of the things you want to consider what planning and executing fun events in the hospital!