It’s a therapy tool.
It’s calming and it evens the playing field.
It is a diversion and it breaks down barriers.
At Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt at Williamson Medical Center, there’s one particular item we keep in stock because of its importance in the process of healing a child.
It’s not a medication or miracle pill.
It’s a purple Popsicle®.
Not just a summertime dessert around here, you’d be amazed at the ways a simple Popsicle can help when your child is sick or hurt or scared.
“In a child’s world, it’s the small things that make such a huge difference,” said Brittany Youngblood, MSN, and the director of pediatrics. “Simple things such as a Popsicle, children can understand and directly relate it to life outside of a hospital.”
Sometimes one is handed to a child after a difficult procedure to remind them of the more fun times in life. For the nurses caring for children, the Popsicle is a bridge for communication.
Jim Hawley, R.N., says there are multiple ways to use a Popsicle in the healing of a child. He says it can be a great way to introduce yourself to a child that helps them feel safe.
“A Popsicle can help me introduce myself as someone they don’t need to feel threatened by,” Hawley said. “I can walk into a child’s room with one and you can see in their eyes that everything is going to be OK.”
Youngblood added that they can be a tool for nurses, physicians and even parents.
“Anyone can give a child a Popsicle. The act of giving a child a Popsicle helps build a relationship.”
It can also help a child muster up courage to get through something that might seem scary to them. Being able to say to a child that if they will let the nurse get a swab of their throat, they can have a Popsicle at the end can be a game-changer.
“Children are enthralled with something as simple as a Popsicle or a sticker. Those little things make a huge difference in being able to care for them,” Youngblood said.
A Popsicle also brings a sense of familiarity when a child is in the hospital.
“This is an item they have at home, so when they realize we also have them, it’s comforting. A Popsicle is usually given as a treat at home, so to be able to say, ‘hey, we have those here, too’ helps children process that we aren’t an awful place.’ All you have to do is say the word ‘Popsicle’ and it’s like magic. A child’s face will light up.”
Youngblood remembers a recent instance where a young girl needed to be put under anesthesia briefly for some stitches. The young girl was anxious about being “put to sleep” so her care team explained that if she would go to sleep for just a little bit, she could have a Popsicle when she woke up.
“Letting the child know that there would be a reward for her after she woke up reassured her that she would wake up,” Youngblood said. “She asked the team again if she cooperated, she could have any Popsicle she wanted? We said yes. She picked a red one. The element of fear was gone.
When she woke up, we let her mom give her the Popsicle because that added a sense of comfort and familiarity to the reward. That let the little girl know that she would be OK.
So maybe you thought Popsicles were just frozen sugar water on a stick.
Far from it.