A father bringing his little boy for a checkup

Educational Play

Child Life Specialists at Joslin Diabetes Center support children, adolescents, and their families through diabetes treatment and care. Our team is specially trained and certified in the field of Child Life Services, which involves creating a supportive, caring and child-appropriate healthcare experience.

We rely on therapeutic and recreational play activities to reduce stress and help teach children about their diabetes. You’ll see child life specialists use dolls, medical equipment, and other play activities to help children understand medical procedures, step-by-step. Research shows that kids do much better when healthcare professionals prepare them for care in a developmentally appropriate way.

Supporting Children & Families

A diabetes diagnosis can be difficult and frightening for children. That's why, at Joslin, we offer Child Life specialists who are trained to use play to explain the condition. Learn about our techniques.

Child Life Specialists spend time with pediatric patients and their families in the pediatric waiting room, during clinic visits and in the exam rooms and laboratory when procedures are done. We offer educational play activities that can help reduce stress and anxiety for the whole family. 

Specifically, Joslin’s Child Life Specialists can help:

  • Prepare children for upcoming medical procedures and lab work
  • Help them cope with injections, blood checks or taking other medications
  • Help children manage medical treatments and schedules
  • Help you understand your child’s view of diabetes and its treatment
  • Help siblings understand a brother's or sister’s diabetes
  • Provide ideas on how to talk about diabetes with a child's friends and classmates
  • Engage children in meaningful play to reduce stress and help them feel more comfortable during visits

There are a few ways to help make your visit to Joslin Diabetes Center easier and less stressful for your child. Our child life specialists recommend:

  • Letting younger children know about the visit about two days in advance and older children about one week in advance.
  • Including a warning about any blood work that may be needed. If no blood work is scheduled, let your child know that you do not expect any blood to be drawn. But also say that you won’t know for sure until you ask the doctor or nurse. It’s important to avoid false promises because sometimes a medical need arises.
  • Encouraging children to bring along something special to office visits, such as a doll or blanket, to help them feel less nervous.

Injections can be hard on children, both younger and older children. There are several ways to help make injection treatments easier and less stressful for the whole family. Joslin’s Child Life Specialists suggest:

  • Be prepared with materials. Draw up the insulin and prepare all necessary materials before calling the child into the room for the injection.
  • Try to follow a routine. For example, children may have a particular position or chair they like to sit in.
  • Offer appropriate choices. For example, identify two injection sites for the child to choose from.
  • Add distractions. Younger children often respond well to distraction with a favorite book, toy, television show or video. Older children may benefit from using a squeeze ball, counting or trying different slow-breathing techniques.
Olivia McDonald

Olivia McDonald is a Certified Child Life Specialist. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies at Assumption University in Worcester, MA. She attended the University of Pittsburgh to gain her Master’s degree in Applied Developmental Psychology specializing in Children with Special Health Care Needs.

Before joining the Joslin Diabetes team she was a Child Life Specialist at Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Boston, a post-acute hospital for children with complex medical and mental health needs.

To make an appointment in our Pediatric Clinic, call 617-732-2603. 

If it is after work hours and your child needs urgent medical attention, call 617-309-2400 and ask for the On-Call Pediatric Endocrinologist.