Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.
Last week he wrote about how the staged violence of TV wrestling can lead to dangerous imitation play by young children. This week he address how the entertainment provided in hospital and doctor waiting rooms should model for parents the types of activities that creatively engage their children.
Q: I am working at a hospital in New York, and as we are opening a new children’s center this coming year, we are trying to see what types of recreational technology would be appropriate for our inpatient and outpatient waiting rooms. What would you recommend? The kids would be ages 0-17.
-Waiting is the Hardest Part in New York, NY
A: Dear Waiting,
What a great question! By simply asking this question you indicate your awareness that waiting rooms are not just a place for waiting—they are the public face of your hospital, and they are the place where patients and families may actually spend most of their visit. You can work with your hospital’s child life specialists to create waiting rooms that are in themselves therapeutic and developmentally nurturing.
As you consider what to offer in these spaces, remember that what you provide for kids as ways to pass the time will send a powerful message about what you see as fun and worthwhile in leisure time. For that reason, fill your waiting rooms with the sorts of materials that you encourage parents to have for their children in their living rooms.
Specifically, I’d recommend low-tech leisure activities that encourage imagination, creativity, and challenge. For example, put out a jigsaw puzzle that everyone can work on while they’re waiting. Tape a big piece of butcher paper to a table and put out crayons—when the mural is complete, post it on the wall. Though you should clean these communal supplies often and provide ample opportunities for hand sanitizer, some parents would still prefer that their children not touch these supplies. Consider leaving out stacks of photocopied single-page activities that parents and kids can do with their own pens — like fun concept worksheets for younger kids, sudoku and word games for older kids.
Entertainment technology is something your patients already know and use elsewhere, and in the context of a waiting room, it’s more likely to provide simple distraction than to really challenge their creativity. And while that one hour certainly won’t make or break a child’s upbringing, the waiting room is where we can offer patients of a model of how they can spend their time. If you decide that you do want to add a television to your waiting room, thinking about content for that wide of an age range can be a difficult task. For guidance, check out the answer to this related Ask the Mediatrician® question: How can I talk to my pediatricians about the TV in their waiting room?