How play helps sick kids cope
Most people consider the act of playing as merely a form of recreation. However, for children with serious medical conditions, one study finds that play can help children—and their siblings—cope with illness.
The study, published in the September issue of the journal Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, revealed that medical play enabled the children to work through fears and stress due to medical experiences.
Researchers observed chronically ill children and their siblings at play using medically themed toys. Types of toys used included ambulances, doctors’ bags, head and arm casts, intravenous (IV) lines, mini hospital beds and stethoscopes.
Participants from the study stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati, and included 15 children with medical illnesses, 14 siblings of children with a medical illness and six children from the community who had no ill family members.
Observations indicated that children were afraid to have blood drawn, fearing it as something being taken away. They were not aware that the body replenished its blood supply. They also observed that the patients in children’s dramatizations often called for parental support, indicating how much children relied on their parents to help cope with their illness.
Among siblings, there were times when their play indicated that they felt left out of the attention their ill sibling received from their parents. These instances included expressions of loneliness and need for attention.
Researchers also found that play among both the chronically ill child and the siblings ended with stories of successful recovery.
Study co-author Laura Nabors said in a statement that play might be an avenue for opening communication lines about fears between medical professionals, parents and very young patients.
“I really believe that young children are marked for resilience and that will be explored in our future research,” added Nabors, assistant professor of human services at the University of Cincinnati.
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