What is Medical Play?
You may have noticed new Facing Cancer Together (FCT) programs added to the docket this year. One of them being medical play programs. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, don’t worry! Most of the non-medically trained Angel Foundation staff weren’t too familiar with the practice either. Here are the basic “need-to-knows” and how this program might benefit you and your family.
Medical play is a practice most utilized for young children, since this age-range is often comfortable using play to process emotions and questions. Medical experiences can easily cause anxiety and stress for children (whether they themselves or someone else, such as a parent or caregiver, is the patient), so play is used to help them work out their fears and worries. Medical play “tools” include medical equipment (real or toy; example: a stethoscope, port, thermometer, etc.), stuffed animals, BAND-AIDS, cotton balls, tape, and gauze, to name a few. Children can use these materials to “play out” what might be bubbling below the surface.
At Angel Foundation, we use medical play to teach children about their parent or caregiver’s cancer treatment plan (mostly chemotherapy). We have a number of stuffed animals in our office that have been “surgically-altered” to have a play port sewn inside the stuffed animal to accommodate this type of learning. By mimicking what a port feels and looks like in the stuffed animals (in addition to speaking to the practice of receiving chemotherapy as a patient), the hope is that this process becomes less scary to kids.
In addition to participating in our medical play program, there are things you can do at home to help ease anxiety for a child, such as:
- Buy toy doctor kits for the child to use at home
- Ask for real medical supplies from your healthcare provider at your next appointment
- Buy age-appropriate books about cancer, hospitals, or treatment plans. Even basic books about the human body can go a long way in understanding what is happening to mom, dad, grandma, etc.
Lastly, consider bringing the child to your next appointment. Though this may seem scary (maybe even more so for parents/caregivers!), allowing them to be a part of the process can help demystify the experience overall.
As always, if you have questions about Parenting Through Cancer, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Melissa Turgeon, our FCT Program Director: email or 612-627-9000 ext. 507.
Heidi D. Johnson