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the importance
of emotional support

how professionals and non-professionals provide emotional support 

Written by Leah Cussen

Sarah Jerstad Headshot.jpeg

Photo courtesy of Dr. Sarah Jerstad


Photo courtesy of Dr. Sarah Jerstad

The Child Life Zone at Children's MN.

Kids are resilient — but they are also human. People of all genders, races and ages need emotional support in their lives, and children battling serious illnesses are no different. 


Dr. Sarah Jerstad, the clinical director of Psychological Services at Children’s Minnesota, is just one resource for children in need of emotional support. 


Jerstad has recognized the adaptable nature of children since graduate school, where she had the opportunity to work directly with children by conducting therapy and assessments. 


“One of the things I learned is that … lots of people are resilient, but kids really have a resilience about them. And there's so much they can learn and they can do,” Jerstad said. “I just saw lots of … progress and growth opportunities when I was working with kids.”


Emotional support is a key component of the healing process for children battling serious illnesses because managing and coping with physical symptoms can be overwhelming. Children’s Minnesota provides this support in a multitude of ways. 


“It starts right when kids enter the hospital. Our nurses and our doctors and providers not only give … physical and medical care but really show kindness and get to know the kids who come into the hospital,” Jerstad said. “[They] start to understand things about them, things they enjoy, things they like, joke around with them and just show them that they're not alone.”


Medical professionals provide emotional support in other ways, including by teaching kids about procedures, talking with them about their concerns and giving opportunities to engage in fun activities. 


The Child Life Zone is a space in Children’s Minnesota that offers kids the ability to play with toys and games, as well as do interactive projects. 


“Some kids who've been in the hospital for a long time … love the time in the Zone,” Jerstad said. The Zone is “letting them truly be a kid. [It] is such an important part of their hospital stay, where they can just do those things that they would have done at home, in a fun environment.”


While it’s essential for medical professionals to provide emotional support to their patients, it is just as critical for family members and other loved ones to provide emotional support to those in their life that are facing an illness. One way to do this is by supporting Letters of Love in creating and sending handmade cards patients in children’s hospitals throughout the world. It is an easy and free way to make a difference in the lives of children battling cancer and other serious illnesses. Jerstad said family members and friends can provide even more emotional support by listening to the needs of their loved one and helping them maintain a sense of normality. 


“Maybe a sibling comes in [and] they just … play some video games together or … watch a movie or do whatever siblings do together. Maybe friends … would send supportive text messages or just simply reach out and be a friend,” Jerstad said. 


Jerstad said she believes emotional support is most impactful when it is provided from the beginning of a child’s battle with an illness. 


“I actually do think it contributes to their healing and to their getting better because when you feel hopeful and feel better emotionally, you're probably going to have a better and quicker healing process,” Jerstad said. “So not only does emotional support, provide … something positive and hopeful for kids but I think [it] can even contribute to better healing.”

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