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At Connecticut Children’s, toys have a very special purpose. While a new stuffed animal or LEGO® set surely delights its recipient, these toys are not simply rewards for being brave or bribes for cooperating during a procedure. In fact, in the hands of a Child Life Specialist, toys are critically important therapeutic tools.

For the child who doesn’t understand the procedure they’re facing, toys are used for medical play. A Child Life Specialist might show a patient how an anesthesia mask fits over a teddy bear’s nose and then have the child practice putting the mask on the bear, then himself. A member of the Child Life team might use a doll’s arm to demonstrate where an IV will be inserted or show how a G-tube or a port can be implanted.

Child Life Specialists simulate procedures with toys to make kids feel more comfortable.

The calming effect of toys is almost magical. Telling a scared child to relax can be as effective as commanding a frightened cat to come out from under the sofa and unwind. But give a nervous little girl a brightly colored pinwheel, ask her to take a big breath and blow long and slow to see how long she can keep it spinning. Suddenly she is engaged in deep, meditative breathing and has discovered a new way to control her anxiety—a valuable skill for doctor’s visits or next time there is a fear of a monster in the closet at a sleepover.

Child Life makes use of toys in the most creative, therapeutic ways!

Toys also help distract a child, drawing their attention in one direction while doctors and nurses perform the diagnostic tests or procedures the child needs to get on the path to brighter days. For even the youngest patients, waving a magic wand full of water and sparkles captures their attention, drawing their minds away from what the other clinicians in the room are doing.

Team members in clinical divisions across our health system distribute more than 80,000 toys to our patients annually. And every year, community members donate to the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s “Give a Child a Toy, Not a Ticket” campaign and shoppers give toys, cash and gift cards to Connecticut State Police Troop H, Ambulance Service of Manchester and Aetna Ambulance during their annual Heroes & Helpers Toy Drive. Because toys help our skilled staff engage, distract and motivate children, having the right items is critically important. That’s why Virtual Toy Drives have become so popular. The funds raised allow our Child Life Specialists to purchase appropriate toys for patients, based on their age and developmental needs.

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Thanks to the generosity of the community, Connecticut Children’s keeps the shelves of its Toy Warehouse stocked and ready to serve kids, all year long!

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