Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.Learn More
Medical play happens when kids play with real or pretend medical items. Medical play can help your child express feelings and concerns about their care. Coming to the hospital might be new or scary for a child, but playing is familiar and comforting.
Medical play can fit any child’s age, ability, and learning style. Your child can act out care experiences with a doll or toy. Sometimes, your child may start medical play on their own. Other times, a child life specialist or caregiver might start the play experience and ask your child to play. You, another caregiver, or a child life specialist should be with your child during medical play.
Medical play can help in several ways. Goals for your child might be to:
Children learn best through play. Medical play lets your child touch and pretend to use medical items in a safe place, like a playroom or at home. Research shows that medical play can help your child feel more comfortable in the hospital. It can also help your child cope more easily with future care.
Medical play can help your child handle the hard parts of treatment, such as:
Your child can use medical play to learn and practice coping skills. These may include:
A child life specialist, parent, or caregiver should be with your child during medical play. Your child may act out feelings about medical treatments. For example, they might pretend a doll is afraid of a medical item or procedure.
If your child shows fear, anger, or any behavior that concerns you during medical play, it is important to talk to your child about these feelings. Here are some things you can say:
Letting your child pretend to be a doctor or nurse might help them feel powerful and safe during play. You can ask your child if they want to be the “doctor,” the “patient,” or the “mommy or daddy.”
Asking questions such as “What is that?” and “What is that for?” can help you learn what your child knows or fears about a medical procedure. It also gives you a chance to explain things that seem confusing to your child.
Many kids have never seen or learned about items in a hospital. They might think some items are scarier than they really are. If your child pretends to use a medical item in an unusual way, explain how it is used and how it can help their body. A child life specialist can answer questions about your child’s behavior.
Reviewed: March 2022