Making the hospital a happier place for children of all ages is a rewarding, but of course challenging task—and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Tactics and techniques differ for different genders, cultures and age groups. What’s employed for school-age children is different than what’s employed for infants. And, one special group needs a pretty different approach altogether: Adolescents.

To learn more about reducing suffering for teenagers in the hospital, we spoke with Melissa Pigden, MS CCLS at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center who also maintains the blog Child Life Story Circuit and has a passion for working with adolescents.

“For teens especially, we really want them to understand and participate in their treatment,” says Pigden. “We want them to ask questions and voice concerns—this aids in their transition to adult care. We don’t want the transition to be a big shock. They won’t always be able to rely on their parents, they need to ask for what they need on their own.”

Methods for coping with their condition and hospitalization are also a large part of Pigden’s practice. “We focus on expression with our adolescent patients. In particular, I find narrative medicine based interventions extremely therapeutic for this population. I encourage adolescent patients to share a story about what they’re going through, or about their life. I often use poems as ‘fill in the blank’ story opportunities,” shares Pigden.

Equipping teenaged patients with knowledge is important, as well—for the adult preparation and the coping areas of focus. “[Knowledge about their condition or treatment] prepares them for what’s coming, but gives them confidence afterward, too. It’s empowering,” explains Pigden.

As with younger age groups, art is still an incredibly effective form of coping and expression for adolescents, but it is approached a bit differently by Pigden. “I don’t say ‘arts and crafts’ with teens because they think you’re going to bring them a coloring book,” shares Pigden. “Creative writing, painting, a detailed or advanced art project, graffiti wall art scaled to their age, or doing a silhouette of their face and turning it into a puzzle—these are great examples of the types of art we do with our adolescent patients.”

In addition to helping patients express themselves, Pigden shares that the art helps her develop rapport with them. “So, when I have to help them process difficult news, a relationship already exists. It helps me get to know them, their conversational and listening styles, and their personality.”

A final practice Pigden shared that’s important at all ages, but critical for adolescents is involvement with others and socializing. “We try to get our teens who are staying on different floors or in different areas together for socialization—for games, projects or just hanging out,” she says. “When they get together they start talking and they find community and others to relate to. Hearing they’re not alone is very comforting to them.”