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Overview: Press & NewsDate created: 26.09.2018

In order to make the course of therapy and radiotherapy as easy as possible for children in particular, the WPE has been using unusual measures since this year – such as a virtual playground and clown visits. Nico Sterr and Nicole Stember from the WPE’s Psychosocial Service explain the context in an interview.

Mr Sterr, young patients come to the WPE for treatment every day for an average of six weeks. Why is it so important to keep children in particular occupied or distracted during waiting times, but also during therapy?
In contrast to us adults, children live much more in the moment. As a result, they don’t rationalise like we adults do. We think “I will endure the waiting time and lying still for the long-term goal of successful radiotherapy”. For children, on the other hand, what counts at any given moment is whether they are anxious or feel safe, for example, as well as sensations such as hunger and tiredness and the anticipation of pain. Fortunately, this also means that children can be brought out of negative moods much more quickly through playful elements. We therefore endeavour to be a place that is associated with positive content for the children – with play instead of boredom, with friendly encouragement instead of fear. In this way, we can ensure that the children also work well with us.

The new virtual playground is particularly unusual. Here, movement games such as ice hockey, football, tennis and even a piano keyboard are projected onto the floor of the waiting area. These can then be controlled with the feet. How important is movement for the often seriously ill young patients?
Exercise is definitely important for the well-being of our patients, but especially for children, of course. Especially when they have to spend so much time in hospitals, in treatment and waiting rooms, movement creates a balance that evokes positive emotions and helps them to cope with the illness. The fact that the body movements on the virtual playground have an influence on the game also attracts even small children, who then push flowers around, catch sweets or strum notes. You can also observe how children get to know each other and socialise on the play area.

The new virtual playground at the WPE was realised thanks to a private donation. Teacher and stand-up paddler Jörn Schulz donated over 13,200 euros to the University Medicine Foundation this summer with his “BE STRONG FOR KIDS” initiative, which combines sporting activities with a good cause. The “Clownsvisite” project is also financed by the foundation.

Mrs Stember, is the “Clownsvisite” project, which started at the WPE in July, aimed in the same direction? And what exactly can the children expect?
Since this summer, the clowns have been coming to the WPE every Wednesday morning. In addition to their red clown noses, colourful balloons and other fun accessories, they bring jokes, fun and a pinch of light-heartedness with them. They do what clowns do best: They make the young (and old) patients smile, fool around with them and show them amazing tricks. After all, laughter is an effective medicine. Too often in the acute treatment phase, everything revolves around the illness and the therapies. When the clowns appear, for many children the illness and the treatment disappear from their minds for a short time. The children are motivated to try out new things in a playful way, they become active themselves, are distracted and sometimes amazed. The parents are also happy about the programme, as many of them spend the whole day with their children for several weeks, often with worries and fears about their own child. For them, it’s nice to see the children having fun and being able to sit back for a moment. And there is another important point: the language of clowns is universal and accessible – regardless of age, language or gender. It is colourful, just like our patients, who come to us for treatment from all over the world.

The young patients at the WPE not only have to cope with their illness and therapy. Many are also away from home for a longer period of time – albeit accompanied – surrounded by unfamiliar people who sometimes don’t even speak their own language. Mr Sterr: What options are there to make the transition easier for the children? The WPE has been cooperating with the National Health Service (NHS) England since the beginning of this year, for example, and has treated around 50 patients from the UK since then.

That’s right, we are currently accepting many patients from England. Incidentally, it’s not just exciting for the children; the parents are also often nervous if they don’t know the local everyday arrangements, for example local transport, shopping facilities and so on. Committed British parents have therefore also set up a Facebook group in which families who have already been with us can exchange ideas with those who will be joining us. By volunteering, many uncertainties are reduced in advance and tips are given on how to organise leisure activities on site. Once the families have arrived, the children can play a game to familiarise themselves with the WPE and learn a few German words and expressions. The game was designed by a high school graduate who did an internship with us. The aim is to make the children aware of the German language and at the same time allow them to playfully discover the WPE, which is unknown at the time. The procedure is as follows: there are cards with both German/English and English/German translations, each with two levels of difficulty. The cards are numbered so that the aim is to go through a series successively. There is a translation on each card, for example English: “What time is it?” The German solution should then be entered; the outpatient team is also happy to help with the answer. There is also a “challenge” – for all patients – aimed at exploring the WPE, for example the question “How many seats are in the waiting area at the main level?”. Anyone who manages to complete a row can look forward to receiving a personalised certificate.

Dipl.-Sozialpädagogin Nicole Stember und der Psychologe Nico Sterr verantworten den Bereich „Psychosoziale Begleitung“ am WPE und stehen sowohl erwachsenen Patientinnen und Patienten als auch Kindern als Ansprechpartner zur Verfügung.
Qualified social pedagogue Nicole Stember and psychologist Nico Sterr are responsible for the “Psychosocial Support” department at the WPE and are available as contacts for both adult patients and children.