Play Therapy for Children in Hospital

It’s rarely a happy occasion when a child is in the hospital, but play therapy is a really effective way to make it a little less overwhelming and a whole lot brighter.

How play therapy can help reduce the stress & anxiety of hospitalisation

We all know the importance of play for children. It is great for socialisation, motor skills, and intellectual development. In hospital, playing with children can also create understanding and serve as a distraction, as well as help in:

  • Building rapport and providing a positive experience
  • Encouraging development and independence
  • Relieving stress and boredom
  • Helping to prepare for procedures
  • Normalising the environment
  • Breeding familiarity with hospital equipment
  • Providing opportunities to talk and listen

What does a play therapist do?

There are 4 main ways that a Play Therapist helps children in hospital:

Procedure Education: This is the child friendly explanation of any procedure a child may experience throughout their hospitalisation. The Play Therapist will use developmentally appropriate language and resources such as toys, books and pictures, to ensure the child and family are well prepared before, during and after any procedures they need to have.

Distraction: This involves the use of various items and techniques including books, iPads, breathing and imagery – to provide a positive focus during medical procedures and
therapeutic interventions. Distraction can help reduce anxiety and provide choice such as which song to focus on, which movie to watch, or which story to read.

Medical Play: This gives children and their families the opportunity to explore, familiarise and desensitise themselves to medical equipment. It may include doctor dress ups, doll making, medical equipment collage and syringe paintings.

Therapeutic & Developmental Play: This is the provision of developmentally appropriate activities to patients. It aims to normalise the Hospital environment, provide choice, and promote fun. It also allows continuity of life away from hospital, including working towards developmental milestones and may take place in the form of group activities or individual sessions.

Making a hospital stay happier

There are some simple things you can do which will make a world of difference to a child during their hospital stay.

1. Be open about the situation

Build trust by letting your child know what is happening and why they have been taken to hospital. Ask them how they are feeling so you can address any concerns they may have. Make sure you bring in some familiar items from home like a favourite toy or blanket that may comfort your child. Offer choices to them when they present themselves to help them feel empowered – whether it’s choosing the number of pillows they have, or something medical like taking medicine from a syringe or a cup.

2. Promote the positives

Praise your child for their efforts and encourage their progress, verbally and with rewards. Bringing in items from home can also be a great way to make their hospital bed feel more like home. Reward them with a visit from a favourite toy, reassure them with a song, or settle them with a story from a loved book.

3. Work through the worry

There may be times when anxiety is inevitable. If this happens, it’s important not to brush it aside. Let your child have their emotions and then work on a way to ease stress together. Practice some relaxation techniques, like focusing on breathing to calm down or releasing stress by squeezing a ball. Distract your child by talking through what is happening, or divert their attention with a conversation, favourite story or activity


How Huggies are helping Play Therapists

The Huggies® Brand sponsored the Australian Association of Hospital Play Therapists 2013 National Awards for Contribution to the Field and Clinical Excellence at the 7th Biennial Conference held from April 18th to 20th at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.

The first recipient was Irene Adam from Sydney Children’s Hospital– she was nominated for her work in developing the role of a Play Therapy Educator – and creating frameworks to assist staff with their professional development.
The second recipient was Cara Dahl – the Acting Manager at John Hunter – who was nominated for her clinical excellence … her nomination came from a parent – which was our only parent nomination – and we felt this spoke a great deal on its own merit.