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Sacred Heart stress program helps parents, kids

It’s the end of a long day and the kids are restless. Still, a dreaded trip to the grocery store is necessary.

The rest of this story is played out every day at store after store and too often ends badly.

But it doesn’t have to, says Susan Stacey, a nurse manager at Sacred Heart Medical Center children’s hospital.

Stacey and others have created a program that teaches simple steps to defuse those tense public moments when parents are losing their tempers.

It began after staff witnessed what Stacey politely called “poor parental-child interactions” within the confines of the hospital.

A mother of three, Stacey recalled a time at a grocery when her children misbehaved so badly in the checkout line that she simply gathered them up, apologized to the cashier and left a full cart of food.

“I was exhausted, angry and embarrassed,” she said, now able to laugh about the moment. “It wasn’t me at my best.”

The program is called SAFE – Securing A Family-friendly Environment – and will be rolled out across Sacred Heart in hopes that the several thousand employees can be ready with some kind words or deeds before parents yell, drag their kids by the arm down a hall, or even hit.

“Hospitals can be stressful places,” added Danita Petek, a children’s hospital spokeswoman. “We said to ourselves, we need to be a place where children are safe and parents are supported.”

Sacred Heart has a day care facility available where parents may leave their healthy children while they spend time with a hospitalized child.

That’s the story with Tiffany Gallimore, a mother who leaves her 3-year-old son Ty in the playroom while she spends time with her ill infant daughter.

“This has worked really well for me,” she said.

While on-site day cares are a luxury few kid-busy businesses can afford, it works well for Ty, who plays ball with a new friend and enjoys having a staffer read and reread books.

Later this year the staff hopes to offer training to medical clinics and other health care providers where children may be bored in waiting rooms – places where quiet is the norm.

Stacey said she hopes the program can then be taken to the community at large.

It will include training materials, role-playing and a simple activity book filled with word searches, tic-tac-toe games, jokes and coloring, and connect-the-dots puzzles.

Restaurants have long offered crayons and paper placemats to help parents keep children entertained. It helps make dining out a more manageable experience.

Key parts of the program will be how to intervene and say the right things without making judgments or upsetting an already stressed-out mom or dad.

“We know how hard it is,” Stacey said. “What we often see as frustration on the outside is really embarrassment. Sometimes people just need a kind word and assurance.

“What I envision is this being a small piece of making Spokane a better place to be a parent. And a child.”


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