Health care in general can be stressful for children. Even a simple “check-up” can produce many anxieties and fears for kids. Providing a child an outlet to play with real or pretend medical materials allows them a chance to gain confidence over their fears. This play, called medical play, can be a way for children to act out their health care experiences, good or bad. Medical play can be done at home or in the hospital. In the hospital, supplies and support are limitless, but at home you may need to get creative.
Here are some helpful tips to do medical play at home:
- When leaving the hospital or a doctor’s office, ask a staff member if you could take home some basic medical supplies similar to the ones seen or used during the visit. (i.e. gloves, gauze, medical tape, syringe, mask, etc.) If this is not possible, the first-aid aisle at the drug store has lots of medical supplies that can be used for play.
- In medical play, it is okay to combine pretend medical equipment with real supplies. Not everything in the hospital can be taken home, but there are many different toy companies that make medical kits. Children's toy kits can be found in most toy departments.
- Medical play does not have to be hospital specific, it can be directed toward teeth cleaning at the dentist’s office, immunizations at the doctor’s office, breathing treatments at home, etc.
- Make sure to be aware of what your child’s health care stressors are during the visit. Is it the “stickers” that go on their chest, the light of the finger, blood pressure cuff, getting a “shot,” or the stethoscope? Try to use these or similar items during play so your child can become more comfortable with them.
- When your child is playing, they may say things that are not true and this can be an opportunity for you to clarify these misunderstandings.