The importance of play for your child in hospital

The importance of play for your child in hospital

Play is how children make sense of the world around them. In hospital, it helps them to express their feelings and worries, understand what is happening and cope with treatment.

Key points to remember

  • play is familiar and reassuring for your child
  • being able to play while in hospital means your child can continue an aspect of their normal life

How can playing while in hospital help my child?

This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.

Play is familiar and reassuring. It's how children make sense of the world around them. In hospital, it helps children to learn and develop, and to feel less anxious. It helps them to express their feelings and worries, understand what is happening and cope with treatment. It provides an opportunity for your child to make choices so that they can have a sense of some control.

Being able to play while in hospital means that children can continue an aspect of their normal life.

The playroom or play area in hospital

Many hospitals have play specialists who can give you suggestions about how best to prepare your child.

In the ward, your healthcare team will show you the playroom or play area. There will be toys, games, craftwork, books and other activities available. There will probably be a 'medical kit' for your child to play with. Playing with real or pretend medical equipment helps children become confident with things that are usually unfamiliar to them. This can lessen feelings of fear.

What you can do:

  • visit the playroom or play area frequently with your child and enjoy some of the activities together
  • help your child choose some items to take to their room if they are not feeling like playing in the playroom

Play specialists

A play specialist is a person whose qualifications may include early childhood education, teaching and extra training so that they can meet the special needs of children in hospital.

The hospital play specialist's role is to provide programmes and support for children in hospital. The play specialist may provide activities which encourage creativity, exploration and learning as well as sessions which prepare children for procedures and treatments.

Can the play specialist help me to prepare my child for a treatment?

Yes. The play specialist can go through a list of techniques and they can help you and your child to choose from the list and practise these before the treatment. See Techniques to help your child with cancer treatment.

Can the play specialist support my child during a treatment if I can't be present?

Yes. The play specialist knows how to use distraction during a treatment, and a range of other techniques. See Supporting your child before, during and after treatment.

Can the play specialist support me during treatment?

Yes. You can ask the play specialist to stay with you while your child is having the treatment.

What can the play specialist do to help my child after the treatment?

The play specialist can work with your child after the treatment to help them talk about the experience and their feelings.

What should I bring from home?

The ward will have a selection of toys, games, books and other activities which you are welcome to use. It will also be comforting for your child if they can have some of their own things with them. 

  • it is a good idea to bring your child's favourite toys, books and games into hospital
  • mark or name your child's toys, books and games and keep them in the locker beside the bed
  • speak to your nurse or play specialist if you would like any help from the play specialist at any time

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 10 August 2018.
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