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Transitioning to Pediatrics: Essential Soft Skills for Nurses

The winter months present an opportunity for nurses considering a transition to the pediatric field. Hospitals are experiencing higher numbers of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), along with other viruses such as influenza and colds. Further, the higher pediatric population census means more pediatric nurses are needed.  

Avenues to the Field

Nurses who have worked in smaller hospitals where peds and adult units are sometimes combined, may have at least some experience working with children, and can easily make the transition. Hospitals needing pediatric nurses may provide additional training for adult-care nurses with some pediatric experience.  

Labor and delivery nurses will sometimes have the opportunity to float to a pediatric unit too, gaining valuable experience that can make it easier to transition to a position as a pediatric nurse. And because the demand for pediatric nurses is so great, some hospitals are willing to train seasoned adult care nurses. For example, an adult ICU or med-surg step-down nurse may be trained to float to the pediatric ICU or step-down unit and work with older children.  

Taking advantage of training opportunities or highlighting past experience may open the door to working with children and begin your transition to pediatric nursing. And though nurses who work with children attend the same schools and learn the same clinical skills as nurses who work with adults, pediatric staff must cultivate specialized soft skills to effectively communicate with children and their caregivers.  

Build Trust with Good Communication 

Cultivating interpersonal skills can help pediatric nurses develop relationships with children and parents built on trust. Families who trust hospital staff may feel more supported and less stressed.   

If you’re a new pediatric nurse or a seasoned adult-care nurse who would like to transition to a pediatric nurse role, consider your communication style and how you might cultivate these five soft skills. 

Share Information on an Age-Appropriate Level 

Every stage of a child’s development comes with exciting new changes and challenges and requires different communication styles.  

For instance, a nurse explaining a procedure to a 2-year-old may use simple terms and give a lot of hugs. The same nurse will use a different approach for a 12-year-old, possibly drawing pictures and showing a video. The older child may be allowed choices to give them a sense of control. 

Listen with More than Your Ears 

Parents of sick children may cycle through a wide range of emotions. These feelings may appear as anger or frustration. It’s not unusual for parents to take their frustrations out on each other or hospital staff.  

Nurses who can listen and tune into what parents are feeling can help de-escalate tense situations. Letting the parent know it’s okay to feel frustrated and scared can open the door to meaningful conversations in which the parent feels heard and validated. 

Children may be unable to describe their feelings. Pediatric nurses learn to watch a child play. How a child plays with and interacts with their toys can provide insight into their thoughts and feelings  

Show Empathy 

Empathy is simply the ability to imagine what another person is feeling. Nurses can show empathy by actively listening to parents and acknowledging their feelings. You may not fully understand their emotions, but you can imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes.  

Bring Positivity and Playfulness to the Bedside 

Studies have shown that positive thinking leads to a better quality of life. Letting your smile shine helps brighten a child’s day and gives hope to stressed parents.  

Play is how children learn and develop. Child play also provides an outlet for stress. Being playful with a hospitalized child can help family members and children relax during stressful situations.  

Display Patience 

Parents and children will not always be on their best behavior when a child is sick. Tension and stress can lead to outbursts, not only from children but also from parents. 

Approach these situations calmly and patiently, letting the parents know you are there for them. Help parents work through their feelings and let them know their feelings are valid. Being a steady presence may help provide an anchor for anxious parents during stressful situations.  

 By Alex Gray, Team Lead, Senior Recruiter at Planet Healthcare

Photo Credit: Canva

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