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By Casey De Farria
Casey De Farria
31 Jan, 2022

The importance of medical play during a pandemic

Medical role play – where you and your child/ren act out and talk about medical procedures and check-ups through play – is especially important right now. The idea is that connecting with your kids on this topic helps them to understand what they can expect, allows them to ask questions, and helps to calm any fears they have surrounding doctors’ trips and the like.

The reason this is especially important at the moment is that this sort of role-playing can also be used in helping your child to process COVID-related scenarios.

Medical play can help your child in several different ways. As taken from St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, goals for your child might be:

  • To become familiar with medical items in a non-threatening setting,
  • To learn about the purpose of medical items,
  • To get ready for medical procedures through play,
  • To practice coping with hospital stays or procedures,
  • To help children feel in control in a pretend medical setting, and
  • To let your child express feelings about health care experiences with an adult.

In terms of COVID-related play, medical play can look like scenarios of returning to school, getting a vaccination, RAT and PCR testing, what happens if your child does get COVID, and what nurses/doctors and the general public are doing to keep everybody safe – like handwashing and mask-wearing.

Dress up!

Use a medical kit and dress up, to set the scene. Depending on the age of your little one, they may want to involve stuffed animals, baby dolls, or a sibling to be a part of the play. They can be the patient or the doctor, whatever feels comfortable. If you don’t have a kit or toys available, you can always show your child an image of different objects that may be used, and make do with something similar you have at home.

Act it out

You can explain to your little one what will happen at an upcoming check-up/appointment/test – it is important to be completely honest and transparent here. If something is going to hurt (like a needle), you can explain that your little one may feel a sting or pain, but that it will be over quickly! Show them what happens during a needle by pretending to do one on a stuffed animal, or on them if they are up for it. Please don’t tell your child that a painful procedure won’t hurt. You must be honest. If you tell them that it won’t hurt, and on the day it does, you can lose trust and it can make future experiences much harder.

Ask them if they would like a turn pretending to do it to someone else. Letting your child pretend to be a doctor or the person doing a nasal swab might help them feel powerful and safe during play. You can ask your child if they want to be the “doctor,” the “patient,” or the “mummy or daddy.”

Talk it through

If your child shows fear, aggression, or any behaviors that concern you during medical play, it is important to talk about these feelings with your child. Here are some things you can say:

  • Tell me how your patient is feeling.
  • I see your patient looks (sad, scared, excited, frustrated, etc.). Is she __?
  • How do you feel when this happens to you?
  • Let’s talk about some things we can do to help your patient when she is at the hospital.

Asking questions such as “What is that?” and “What is that for?” will give you a better idea of what your child knows about a medical procedure. It can help you learn your child’s fears about a specific health care experience. You can also explain things that seem confusing to them.

When it comes to the actual procedure/check-up/test – in the lead-up, you can mention several times that your little one will be attending the appointment. Include details and the opportunity to act it out again if they would like.

On the day, continue to be attentive, honest, and transparent. Help children feel like they are actively part of the process by giving choices where possible.

Also, avoid bribes and distractions! We know this probably goes against your instincts but offering a bribe can give the child the impression there’s something terrible about the appointment. As the parent, be confident (or pretend to be confident). You can always do a fun activity or have a treat afterward, but make this a surprise at the end rather than a bribe beforehand.

Distractions are common too (especially with needles and PCR tests) but can leave the child wondering why they were distracted. “What was going on that was so bad I wasn’t allowed to look at it?”, they might wonder. When children feel they have been deceived, this may erode trust. Some children may like to watch so they know what’s happening — give them the option.

We hope that this helps you to feel confident in introducing medical play with your little one/s. It can really help right now – for both them and you.


The benefits of medical play – St Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Needles are nothing to fear: 5 steps to make vaccinations easier for your kids – The Conversation

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