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 the importance of being able to play as a curing element

Dr. José Jiménez Martínez. Head of Pediatric and Neonatology Services.

Hospital Sanitas La Moraleja. Madrid

Being hospitalized is something nobody looks forward to and, in the case of children, they are more likely to suffer changes in their emotional state when dealing with a hospital stay. The hospital experience, which involves being away from home, in a foreign environment, often including pain and discomfort, usually generates anxiety, anguish, suffering and possible psychological trauma as a result of so much stress, to such an extent that these feelings sometimes persist as residual fears that go beyond the hospital stay.

Some experts even suggest that long hospital stays due to chronic diseases may slow down children’s development and we, therefore, need to find activities that combine sensorial, imaginative and verbal stimulation adapted by age; what’s more, the disease may sometimes give way to strange sensations of loss of control of body parts or functions: the child needs to be able to understand and adapt to his or her new situation.

Faced with this reality, hospitals are progressively undergoing a humanization process, with changes in the rules for parent visits, creation of spaces specially dedicated to hospitalized children: play rooms, play centers, schools that allow some hospital schooling and, above all, by encouraging the importance of play time as a therapeutic element due to the special role it may play when a child is facing a traumatic situation, such as a hospital stay. Some experts even see the potential of play as an element within the overall care program as it provides comprehensive care and is an important communication tool. An example of this would be to promote recreational programs before and after medical procedures, to help children express their anxiety by encouraging them to communicate, explaining to them in terms adapted to their age, through games or toys, what the procedure is going to be like and thus preventing them from being scared.

And why should we use games? Being able to play is an essential ingredient in any childhood, and may be considered as the most important activity children engage in. It is so important that we usually talk about healthy children, both emotionally and physically, when they are able to play spontaneously, while we view them as not being well when the don’t.

Playing meets several criteria in this regard:

It stimulates the child to cooperate with the medical staff and their family members when undergoing a procedure.

It helps them to structure their time in hospital: games enable them to break the daily monotony.

It confers a feeling of “normality”,  helping to decrease stressful feelings.

It contributes to maintaining the knowledge acquired in school, through the use if didactic games and toys.

All the humanization strategies would like to achieve the goal of making any hospital stay for any kid feel like an extension of their home, another “room” of their usual environment, so that they don’t have to break with anything and are able to view it just as something that had to be done and that was, at least ….fun.

Videogames diminish pain and fear in hospitalized children.

Online games: connecting experiences, friends and learning. (Author: Begoña Gros)

The gamer inside. (Videogames as a tool to educate and)