Medical Play

medical play

Medical play is a wonderful way for children to play with real and pretend medical tools. They can become comfortable with the materials, manipulate them and begin to play out a variety of scenarios. As a child life specialist, this is a common intervention that I used with patients in the hospital.  A child life specialist will provide the appropriate medical tools for a specific treatment or procedure that the patient has or will be experiencing. This could be for anything, such as a blood draw, dressing changes, chemotherapy treatment and surgery.

As a parent or caregiver we can also introduce medical play into our child’s lives. Just playing doctor and having them explore the materials can provide a sense of control for them. It is a great way for a child to play out what they have experienced.

As both a child life specialist and a parent I like to have the child lead the play. I am involved with them but I let them provide the information on what is happening, how to play and what roles we have. This is an eye-opening opportunity for a parent to connect with their child and understand how they may be processing their experience from a doctor’s appointment. It may provide insight and information on misconceptions as well. If your child is saying that the baby doll is a bad girl as she is giving her injections, than you may want to investigate that a little more. Some kids feel like they did or said something wrong and that is why they are experiencing an illness, injury and treatment.

Try to hold back from correcting your child when they are exploring. For example, some kids will give their doll lots of injections with a syringe and it may be in places that they hadn’t experienced; such as their eyes or torso. It’s normal. Children play out and over exaggerate experiences all the time.


I have a doctor kit for my kids filled with additional materials than what was originally provided. I add bandaids, gauze, tape, syringes, measuring medicine cups, alcohol wipes, thermometer and a tape measure. If I know that my child will be experiencing something more specific at an upcoming appointment than I add that to the kit as well.

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Syringe Painting

When it comes to taking medication the average child isn’t too inclined to take the dose. They may feel horrible, it taste awful, they have no control in the matter and it can lead them to feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I know as a mother how difficult this can be. My son used to freak out, cry and refuse to take the medicine that he needed.

There are coping strategies that I used to use with the pediatric patients that I worked with in the hospital. One of which is called syringe painting. Syringe painting is a great way to help children play and express themselves through art by using a medical tool. Children can manipulate the syringe and play with it in a non-threatening way. They are able to become more comfortable with it and then begin to gain a sense of control over it.

This is also a great tool not only for children who take medication orally, but for kids who have a chronic illness such as diabetes and are faced with insulin injections. It also works well for children who receive vaccines.

What you need:

  • Paint
  • Paper/Canvas
  • Syringes
  • Plastic Medication Cups or Paper Cups
  • Basin or large sheet under the paper to protect your table or floor


Be prepared that your child may want to do it over and over again. This is normal and actually a great sign that your child is gaining a sense of control and processing what he/she has experienced.

During the art session you can begin to have a discussion with your child in regards to taking the medicine.

  • Do they know why they have to take it?
  • Do they understand what part of their body it is helping?
  • Do they know the name of it?
  • Do they know that it’s normal to be upset over having to take it and that it’s not a punishment?

You can also begin to strategize and think of ideas on how to make it less challenging the next time they have to take it

For Oral Medication

  • Offer the child as many choices that can be fulfilled. Do they want to take it standing up or sitting down? Would they like a popsicle or a lollipop? Would they like to have a count down or just get it over with?
  • Lick a lollipop or popsicle before and after taking it. My son loves this idea and we make a fun game out of it by having him lick the popsicle until his tongue turns a different color and numbs/masks the taste of the medication.
  • If its possible and the child would like to do it, have them squirt the medicine in their mouth. You can practice with water before.

For Injections

  • Again offer the child as many choices as you can. Do they want to sit up or lie down? Do they want to watch or look away? Do they want a count down or just get it over with? Do they want to take a deep breath and pretend to blow out candles or scream as loud as they can? (I know some people don’t like the screaming but lets face it, injections don’t feel great. As a mom, I have no problem letting my son scream or cry. I encourage it, if that is what will help him get through it.)
  • Advocate for Emla numbing cream. You may need to get a prescription or ask your pediatrician to put it on at least twenty minutes before the injection.
  • Allow the child to pick out a character band-aid

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