Children need play as a natural part of their everyday lives. Play nurtures your child and enhances his or her emotional development. It allows the opportunity to benefit from the distraction that play provides, while at the same time letting your child work through their feelings as they play. There are many ways to play, and children benefit from active, creative, and educational play experiences of all kinds.
Play allows your child to:
- be creative and expand the use of their imagination
- gain insight into their world
- practice real life situations through role play
- work through their feelings
- draw from their inner strength
- gain mastery, as they are the ones in control of their play
Play strengthens your whole relationship with your child. He or she can benefit from nurturing play experiences from everyone in the family, so try as best as possible to create opportunities for this to happen. This simple exercise will give you insight into how to play with your child: think of your special toys when you were a child, and what they meant to you. Imagine yourself as that child. What felt good to you when you played? If you can remember how you felt when you played, this can help you come up with creative ways to play with your child.
Don’t forget play is vital to your well children, too. Siblings are experiencing the trauma of illness in their lives as well, although they may express themselves in a different way. Carving out special playtime with them is equally important.
Here are my Dr. Toy tips for improving your child’s experience of play:
- Take some time to stand back and observe how you child interacts with their toys, their environment, the people in their lives—it can be revealing.
- Don’t provide too many instructions: let your child be in charge of the play.
- Let your child finish his or her play: children should not be pushed, pulled, rushed, or hurried in their play.
- Allow your child to invent games, rules, and use their imagination.
- Let your child make mistakes—they will learn from them.
Here are my Dr. Toy tips for playing with your child facing health challenges:
Encourage your child to work with a Child Life Specialist. He or she is specifically trained on how play can help a child through illness as well as prepare them for medical procedures.
Have a pre-packed “play kit” ready to bring to the hospital. You may consider including the following items:
- a favorite stuffed animal or puppet, to provide comfort and emotional support
- new toys or games your child has not seen before
- creative toys, such as construction toys, craft kits, art supplies, small colored clay kits, Play Doh and Etch-a-Sketch
- supplies to make books or journals, including collage material and photos
- books with activities, puzzles, and jokes
- a favorite book or magazine of interest
- pocket games and travel game sets
- an iPad for games, art creation, exploring the internet, and staying connected with family, friends, and teachers
- a face painting set—when all else fails, face painting is highly entertaining!
- a copy of Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, to assist your child with personal self-expression, to help them cope effectively with feelings that arise during illness, and to find positive and constructive channels for their emotions and thoughts.
Have fun playing!
© 2015 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, Dr. Toy, San Francisco, California