Differences in affect through medical play
Child life specialists use play as a central mechanism to teach and communicate with their patients. Play allows children to learn, engage in their surroundings, and express themselves. A variety of types of play, including pretend and medical play, can be seen within the work of child life specialists. Few studies have examined medical play outside of the hospital, with no studies examining the affect displayed in medical play. The purpose of this research study is to examine the differences in affect expressed in children through non-medical themed pretend play and medical pretend play. Thirty-seven children, three to four years old, participated in the study. This study aimed to examine medical play outside of the hospital setting. Fantasy, positive expression, and additional pretend play qualities were analyzed to determine participants’ affect during medical play. Participants also engaged in pretend play without a medical theme as a mode of comparison. During non-medical themed pretend play, participants’ played the role of the pizza maker. During medical play, participants’ played the role of the doctor. The play sessions lasted a maximum of 10 minutes each, and they were recorded. Videos were then coded to examine the affect displayed in each play session. Children were asked to self report their feelings during the play sessions. The findings indicated that differences in affect do exist between non-medical themed pretend play and medical play. Children displayed more affect in the pizza play sessions than the medical play sessions. In addition, differences in affect were demonstrated between the quality of fantasy, comfort level, and frequency of play with children displaying more fantasy, comfort, and frequency of affect during play. Participants played longer with the pizza play items and reported more positive feelings after non-medical themed pretend play than medical pretend play. Children who are feeling unpleasant emotions have been found to display less affect and engage in less play. Considering this, the current study may suggest that medical play is associated with unpleasant thoughts decreasing the expression of affect and length of play. Adults providing medical play to children, such as child life specialists, should be sensitive to the cues provided during such play, including affect, and provide support to increase normalization and positive feelings during medical play.