In honor of Child Life Awareness Month, Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Child Life program coordinator, Wendy Lane, has written a guest editorial on the benefits of child-directed play for hospitalized children.
When we think of children, many of us imagine little ones running around with unbridled energy. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. At Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center, we treat very ill and injured children of all ages from 63 surrounding counties – each with a different diagnosis, personality, family structure, and set of limitations and strengths.
Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Program is focused on getting to know each patient as an individual and to help him or her cope with fears that can come from undergoing medical procedures among unfamiliar people in an unknown place. Child Life specialists provide support for families too, as they try to cope with stress that can come from having a young loved one in the hospital.
How do we do it? Kids are still kids, even when they’re in the hospital, and as such, they’re intrinsically attracted to play. Play is a universal and essential component to human development. In a recent report, the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasized the importance of giving children opportunities for free and unstructured play, stating that play is essential in helping children reach important developmental milestones and in helping to manage stress. Play is even more important in the hospital – It’s a liberating activity that allows for self-expression in a place where children might otherwise feel confused and unsure.
Golisano Children’s Hospital understands the value of play and provides opportunities for play to children of all ages. We have a variety of age-related activity rooms, which give children and teens a chance to enjoy the simple act of playing and engage in activities that help them feel successful.
There is so much magic that happens in these activity rooms. Children become the leaders and we become the followers. They get to be creative and imaginative in their play. For the teenagers, the activity room offers opportunities to build relations and share experiences. The activity rooms give hospitalized patients a safe outlet in which they can freely express their feelings and focus on their developmental needs.
Play helps children heal. Child Life specialists encourage children to express their feelings about their medical experience through play. Medical play gives patients a chance to handle medical equipment they’ll encounter during their stay. A child may go over to the play exam table and start bandaging up a dolls arm, or pretend to do surgery. This empowers them, by putting them in control of a medical-related situation, and allows them to be self-expressive. Through medical play, patients can play out their interpretation of what being in the hospital means to them.
Our child life specialists serve as guides for medical play, enabling children to lead the way. Engaging with children through play makes it easier to recognize how they are internalizing their hospital experience. We can help to ease their fears and misconceptions, by providing them with a better understanding of their medical treatment.
Play is such an important aspect of every child’s life. It is is enjoyable and it also serves an important purpose, giving children a way to comfortably explore their surroundings, socialize with peers and practice problem solving. During Child Life Awareness Month, we encourage parents, physicians, nurses and anyone engaging with a child to nurture opportunities for children to take the lead in play. Give children a chance to take ownership over play and we assure you, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll see them grow.
What experiences have you had with Child Life specialists? Have you seen positive changes in children, after they’ve engaged in self-directed play?