Your child in hospital: The importance of play

Your child in hospital: The importance of play

Play is important for children because of the way it helps them to understand their world. Play promotes learning, growth and development, relaxation, fun and socialisation.

How can playing while in hospital help my child?

Play is important for children because of the way it helps them to understand their world. Play promotes learning, growth and development, relaxation, fun and socialisation.

When children are sick in hospital their usual routines are disrupted and they may be separated from their family and other familiar people for periods of time. Being able to play while in hospital means that children can continue an aspect of their normal life.

  • play can help your child become more at ease with the unfamiliar surroundings and experiences of a hospital
  • through play, your child can express their feelings and worries about treatments, helping them to feel less anxious
  • play provides an opportunity for your child to make choices so that they can retain a sense of some control

The playroom or play area in hospital

In the ward, families will be shown the playroom or play area. There will be toys, games, craftwork, books and other activities available. There will probably be a 'medical kit' for children 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 the additional training required to meet the special needs of hospitalised children. The hospital play specialist's role is to provide therapeutic 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 the list of techniques in Your child in hospital: Techniques to help with treatment and they can help you and your child to choose from the list and practise before the treatment.

You might also find the following helpful:

Can the play specialist support my child during a treatment if I am unable to be present?

Yes. The play specialist knows how to use distraction during a treatment, or any of the other techniques described in Your child in hospital: Techniques to help with treatments.

Can the play specialist support me during treatment?

Yes. You can ask the play specialist to stay with you while the treatment is being performed.

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, but your child will very likely be comforted by having some of their own items close by.

  • 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

Where to go for information and support

On this website
Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support

All the information in the Childhood cancer section of this website has 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 National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 03 October 2013.
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