What is Medical Play?

A certified child life specialist is responsible for providing support to children and families while they cope with the stress and uncertainty of hospitalization. They work to ease the concerns of seriously ill kids in a variety of ways, even by focusing on play.

If you have ever had a child visit the hospital, child life specialists are the people who walk into a child’s room holding a hand puppet or blowing bubbles. Your child doesn’t see them as another “scary” adult, but rather as a friend who wants to spend time with them. This trusting relationship between a child and a child life specialist is so crucial because they help acquaint children to the equipment and allows them to express anything they may be feeling.

Healing Power of Play

While there are several types of play that child life incorporates into their day-to-day treatment and evaluation of a patient, Medical play is one that encompasses normative, developmental, educational, and therapeutic play. It is such an important aspect of a child’s medical treatment because it can help reduce their anxiety and fears that come with being hospitalized. Medical play is a therapeutic approach that uses real and pretend medical equipment, stuffed animals and dolls to work with children to no not only understand the hospital itself, but also what is happening with their own bodies. It is focused on activities that allow a child to respond appropriately to difficult medical situations and support the child’s normative development.

During medical play, kids are given the opportunity to play with pretend and real hospital items, including band-aids, doctors’ masks, syringes, gauze and more.

What are the benefits of medical play?
  • Become familiar with medical tools in less stressful environments
  • Prepare for medical procedures by using the same items that will be used during their procedure
  • Learn about the purpose of medical tools
  • Be free to express how they feel about their medical experiences

Each child life specialist decides what items to bring to a medical play session based on their patient’s age and developmental stage. Although they decide what

Photo taken at Advocate Children’s Hospital Oak Lawn in Illinois.

items to use, an important feature of medical play is that the child has complete control over how they want to use the tools provided to them. During a child’s hospital stay, they often feel as if they have no control over their situation, so play allows them to regain a sense of control and is important to their overall well-being.

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How does Starlight help child life specialists execute Medical Play?

Starlight Spaces is a Starlight program that transforms pediatric hospital spaces into colorful, entertaining oasis that can be enjoyed by young patients and their families. Spaces, like the one at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, give child life specialists and other hospital staff a place to take their patients to do this type of play.

Plus, Starlight Special Deliveries help get millions of dollars’ worth of toys, crafting supplies and more into the hands of seriously ill kids. These deliveries give child life specialists the materials they need to have medical play sessions with their patients.

Donate today and help Starlight continue to provide Starlight programs free of charge to child life specialists and hospitals, so they can focus on delivering happiness to seriously ill kids.

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