Therapeutic Play Study Commences at Mission Children’s Hospital

Researchers Study Child Communication and Coping Skills Using Puppets in a Medical Setting

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Mission Children’s Hospital announced today the commencement of a therapeutic play study to research the use of puppets in a medical setting. The goal of the study is to better understand how to meet the needs of children and their families in preparation for medical treatment.

The Hospital received a $5,000 grant from the Daisy Foundation to purchase four therapeutic play puppets that will be used in the inpatient pediatric unit and outpatient hematology and oncology clinics. Researchers will use the puppets to teach patients about medical procedures and illnesses in a developmentally appropriate manner. Children can explore organs, practice starting IVs and act out emotions the puppet may experience while having a procedure. The children will also have a chance to assign roles to siblings, parents and medical staff, and practice a procedure, prior to the procedure being performed on them.

“It can be hard for children to find the right words to explain what they are feeling or thinking regarding a particular procedure. Often they can more easily reveal their coping mechanisms while performing the procedure on a puppet,” said Tara Lynch, MS, CCLS, Child Life Manager at Mission Children’s Hospital. “As adults, we communicate primarily through language, but for children, “play” is their natural language. Play is where a child is most comfortable, and it allows a child the chance to act out emotions in a safe manner.”

Research on the effects of including siblings in the therapeutic plan for a child experiencing a medical procedure is limited. In this study, Kim Delk, a pediatric nurse manager with the Child Life team at Mission Children’s Hospital, and Mary Ellen Wright, MSN, APRN, CPNP, a nurse researcher with Mission Hospital’s Women’s and Children’s Services, will study the effects of including siblings in therapeutic play for children undergoing initial treatments for cancer and certain autoimmune diseases.

“The diagnosis of cancer or chronic disease in a child affects the parents and siblings as well, and the central premise of family-centered care is to address the needs of the family as a whole,” said Wright. “In particular, children experiencing a difficult medical procedure results in the need to provide comfort for the entire family. Therapeutic play is an important strategy in the child’s and the family’s preparation for the medical procedure.”