The Power of Asking, “How Are You Doing?”

The Sala Institute for Child and Family Centered Care was founded on the belief that excellent healthcare is rooted in partnerships among health professionals, children, and families at every level—from the design of programs to the moment of care. Sala unites their distinct expertise to create programs and initiatives that advance the practice of family-centered care in a consistent, sustainable manner at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital and beyond.

One such initiative is the Family Stress Thermometer, a new tool that is helping children and families express their feelings and needs while in the hospital.

When Jennifer Daly became a member of the Family Stress Thermometer team, Ron-Li Liaw, MD, director of the KiDS of NYU Foundation Center for Child and Family Resilience, emphasized that, together, the thermometer and the Sala senior family advisors would greatly benefit distressed parents.

The Family Stress Thermometer helps children and families express their feelings and needs while in the hospital.

“Ron-Li wanted to know what we wanted,” says Jennifer. “At no point did it ever feel like we were ‘just’ parents; we were part of the entire team. We’re all here together to help parents deal with stress in the hospital.” 

The senior family advisors, all parents of current or former patients, shaped every aspect of the Family Stress Thermometer. Once the tool was put into practice, Jennifer and other advisors were struck by its powerful, positive impact on families. “One mom we visited had to be at the highest stress level of ten,” Jennifer remembers. “She was crying in her daughter’s room. Another team member and I introduced ourselves. She thanked us for stopping by and said she was fine. But once we said that we’re also parents, that we’ve also sat at the bedside next to our child and we’ve cried, too, she opened up.”

Using the Family Stress Thermometer as a prompt, the mother confided in them about her worries. The advisors activated specialists from a diverse team of experts to support and help the family. “By the time we finished our conversation, the mom said her stress level was zero. She and her daughter were laughing and getting ready to watch TV together.”

Jennifer can relate to the remarkable effect that the Family Stress Thermometer has on a worried parent. “It would have helped me so much when I was in the hospital with my four-year-old son, Nate,” she says. “Just being asked simple questions, ‘How do you feel? How are you?’ and opening the door to acknowledge how I’m really doing, as opposed to the mask that I wear as a mom, would have been so helpful at the hospital.”