A translation of this article in Spanish is available to download here.
It’s hard to be a child in hospital. There are rules, restrictions, unfamiliar noises, weird smells, and unlimited procedures to endure. Alongside doing everything they can to treat and protect the child, parents and healthcare workers will also be helping them to deal with the hospital’s harsh environment and a myriad of complex emotions associated with feeling unwell and being in hospital1.
Enabling a child to play in hospital can both help to maintain some normality, and provide a tool to help them deal with what is happening. But how do we create room in the complex hospital context for play? How can professionals have the opportunity to reflect on the young patient’s experience of being in hospital and undergoing treatments? How can play help to prevent or reduce the risk of trauma associated with hospitalisation? These are some of the key questions which inspired PEDAL PhD student and paediatrician Dr Paulina Perez Duarte Mendiola to create Semana JIM® – or ‘Play in Hospital Awareness Week in Mexico’ (Semana del Juego Intrahospitalario en México).
Semana JIM® is a virtual space created with the complex schedules of child healthcare professionals in mind, designed to help promote a ‘pro-play’ mindset and spread awareness about the value of play in healthcare settings in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. As an education and training project, Semana JIM® aims first and foremost to connect Spanish-speaking healthcare professionals who want to provide child-friendly care for their paediatric patients and learn more about the world of ‘play and health’.
The importance of play in children’s healthcare is well-documented in research; children utilise play and imagination as a way to cope with and understand the world around them2 and for children who are confronted with traumatic experiences (such as hospitalisation or chronic illness) the introduction of play to the hospital environment can be highly beneficial3 to both their mental health and physical recovery.
Initiatives already exist to support play and health in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. In the UK, for example, the National Association of Health Play Specialists celebrate an annual ‘Play in Hospital Week’, which aims to inspire more adults to learn, promote and support the use of play and specialised play (provided by Health Play Specialists) in hospital and community settings. Semana JIM® seeks to bring these discussions even more explicitly to the global stage, starting a play and health ‘revolution’.
Over the last two years, Semana JIM® has brought together 140 participants from 13 different countries who are all fiercely fighting to protect the rights of children and searching for new ways to improve their lives through play. Semana JIM® 2022, held from 1st to 3rd December, included sessions on the use of play in unconventional settings such as Paediatric Intensive Care Units (PICUs) and prisons, and a conference aimed at engaging children directly titled Am I allowed to play with my doctor?
Thanks to the guidance of Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez and Fundación Lilo México, a charity that supports children with diverse heart conditions, multiple healthcare professionals were able to join this event. Attendee Ángeles Vizcarra, a Mexican psychologist who focuses primarily on diabetes education, reflected:
“I loved having the opportunity to participate in Semana JIM®2022, it was wonderful. Personally, I enjoyed listening to the testimonies and experiences of all these professionals, and the way in which they carry out their work. The use of play in hospitals inspires my soul. I was delighted to know that there are many professionals who are gradually more interested in humanising the care we provide to children and teenagers who need to go through hospitalisation”.
Planning is well underway already for Semana JIM® 2023, which hopes to establish an even broader network of Spanish-speaking professionals and organisations invested in improving healthcare provision for all children through the power of play.
Play is a key feature of childhood and a right for all children, regardless of their environment or circumstances. The research conducted by the Play in Health team here at PEDAL looks at play and health from a variety of perspectives, with the overarching goal of understanding and improving how we care for children’s health and quality of life.
You can find out more about the Play in Health team here.
1 How to communicate with children, according to Health Play Specialists in the United Kingdom: A qualitative study (Pérez-Duarte Mendiola, 2022)
2In sickness and in play: Children coping with chronic illness (Clark, 2003)
3Handbook of Research on Play Specialism Strategies to Prevent Pediatric Hospitalization Trauma (Perasso & Ozturk, 2022)