Play can be therapeutic for children in hospital

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 November, 1997, 12:00am

We found the recent debate in these columns about play for sick children in hospital stimulating and, as a professional organisation dedicated to the promotion of child health and working as advocates for children, we would like to express our opinions on this subject.

There can be no doubt that play is essential for the better development of all children, whether they are well or sick.

Play is of course recreational but more importantly, children acquire the art of communication, as well as the rules of human interaction, through these activities.

Studies in developmental training in children show that children learn faster and better through interaction with their playmates.

All those who have had experience working with sick children would certainly agree that play can be therapeutic. The mere presence of appropriate toys in a children's clinic is psychologically reassuring.

Pretend play conducted by trained personnel can help these children to understand the hospital wards' environment and clinical procedures and this can relieve much of the anxiety associated with hospitalisation. Children learn quickly to express their feelings through symbolic games such as drawing or storytelling. Our ward staff's observations are that, with proper 'play therapy', children demonstrate fewer emotional problems and recover more quickly.

To achieve these targets, play therapy has to be conducted by dedicated play specialists who have to be conversant with the medical setting and be sensitive and responsive to the children they serve. A full-time commitment is vital both in service provision and in career development. Specialised training in children's physical and psychological development, basic childcare principles as well as teaching techniques are needed to ensure quality of service.

The Hong Kong Paediatric Society believes that a play service for hospitalised sick children is vital and should be accorded the importance it deserves by the responsible government departments. Specialised and dedicated play specialists should be an integral part of an in-hospital paediatric service. Unfortunately, at the present time, such training programmes and experienced trainers are sadly lacking.

Long-term planning is needed to clearly define training objectives, the scope of service, and the overall strategy that is required. Futile arguments based solely on theoretical or administrative guidelines should be discouraged.

EXTERNAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE The Hong Kong Paediatric Society