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Medical Play

Age Appropriate Medical Play
Age appropriate medical play opportunities are offered to patients in the healthcare setting to assist children in understanding the difficult and complex experiences they face while in the hospital or clinic. The sessions allow patients to explore aspects of the medical environment that may be unfamiliar and frightening. Medical play can provide patients with a sense of mastery and control, self-expression, and can alleviate misconceptions about medical situations.

Play is a child's work and it is one way children cope with their fears and anxieties. It is familiar and comfortable for children. Child Life Specialists who facilitate medical play are educating and assessing a child during medical play.

Some of the tools that may be used during a medical play session include:

  • Actual medical equipment for specific procedures (alcohol wipes, tourniquet, blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, cotton ball, band aid, needle, syringe, IV tubing, gauze, tape, surgical masks, scrub attire, and anesthesia masks)
  • A child may also be given a teaching doll or blank cloth doll that is used as a pretend patient. These dolls are to be personalized by the patient. Creating their own dolls allows a child to have control and expression of emotions through art.


Before Play Begins
Before medical play begins, here are a few tips for a successful interaction:

  1. A parent or caregiver should give the Child Life Specialist verbal permission to facilitate medical play with their child
  2. Choose a safe and non-threatening environment for medical play
  3. A Child Life Specialist will explain the medical play boundaries to the child if a needle will be used for play
  4. Have a Child Life Specialist demonstrate the procedure for the initial session
  5. Allow the child to choose what kind of medical supplies are needed
  6. Let the child assign roles and routine for the play procedure
  7. Be aware of when a child has had enough information or exposure



Age appropriate examples of medical play:

Infants (0-12 months)

  • Encourage parents to participate with their baby
  • Allow the infant to hold and explore medical equipment
  • Play peek-a-boo with masks and hats


Toddlers (13 months-3 years)

  • Facilitate play with dolls
  • Invite the child to touch, smell and explore medical supplies
  • Demonstrate play while the child watches
  • Read books about healthcare experiences
  • Syringe play and painting


Preschoolers (3-5 years)

  • Encourage the child to explore and hold the medical equipment
  • Ask the child questions about what is going on during the play session
  • Provide blank cloth dolls/art for expression of emotions
  • Allow the child to be in charge of what happens during play
  • Provide medical materials for collages and crafts
  • Make casts on dolls or stuffed animals
  • Syringe play or painting


School Age (6-12 years)

  • Encourage them to verbalize what they know about the procedure
  • Read books about healthcare experiences
  • Use dolls and equipment to demonstrate and teach
  • Let children explore how equipment and supplies work and why they are used
  • Make art sculptures with medical equipment
  • Use an x-ray view box and x-rays during play to explain procedures


Adolescents (13 years and up)

  • Explore medical equipment and its uses
  • Encourage the teen to ask questions and share concerns
  • Provide opportunities for creative outlets (journaling, artwork, music and poems with medical themes)
  • Make a video about a medical experience
  • Make tongue depressor picture frames