Child life therapy in cancer

Child life therapists support children and young people’s needs using play, preparation, education and individualised coping strategies to help patients during their cancer treatments.

You'll find Child Life Therapy on Level 2, The Children's Hospital at Westmead.

Empowering your child through play

Hospital and treatments can be an unfamiliar and challenging experience for children and young people.  Child Life therapists make play an integral part of their care. 

  • helping them to understand what is happening so it is less threatening
  • relieving stress and anxiety
  • creating a feeling of 'normal' in the hospital environment
  • helping children become familiar with medical equipment
  • providing opportunities for debriefing, self expression and self esteem building
  • developing a sense of control and empowerment through play. 

Procedure education 

Procedure education is the child-friendly explanation of medical procedures. Play scan models, toys, books and pictures can be used to help prepare a child such as during and after MRIs or cannula insertions.

Procedure support and re-focusing strategies 

Books, iPads, relaxation and imagery may be used to help children regulate their emotions and manage stress and anxiety during difficult procedures. 

Medical play 

Medical play is a learning experience which gives children the opportunity to get familiar with medical equipment and treatments.  It gives children an opportunity to explore difficult feelings they may be experiencing.  Play medical kits, dolls, medical equipment, social stories, or art activities such as syringe paintings, may be used. 

Therapeutic and developmental play

This type of play provides choice, promotes positive experiences and supports development to normalise the healthcare environment for your child. 

Play spaces

Play spaces are medical treatment free zones. Patients, siblings and visitors are free to play in these safe spaces.

They can be found both indoors and outdoors, on some of the hospital wards, Bear Cottage, in sensory rooms, and playgrounds. 

Tips for children in hospital 

  • bring some familiar items from home, such as a favourite book, music, toy, pillow slip or blanket
  • be honest with your child about their visit to help build trust with their healthcare team
  • practice relaxation techniques with your child like breathing exercises or controlled counting
  • praise efforts and give encouragement for positive behaviours with compliments or rewards
  • offer choices to your child or young person when appropriate to help them feel empowered e.g., offering medication in a syringe or spoon
  • refocus your child’s attention through the use of distraction such as iPad games, breathing techniques and/or I spy activities during procedures or treatment.
  • avoid words such as ‘scary’ as the child may not be thinking it is scary
  • tell them how they are feeling is okay and understandable.
Last updated Wednesday 26th June 2024