Skip to content
Show Menu

How to communicate with children, according to Health Play Specialists in the United Kingdom: A qualitative study

Paulina Pérez-Duarte Mendiola

Why did we do this research?

After many years of working as a clinical paediatrician, Paulina started wondering ‘Who has the ‘job’ or ‘responsibility’ to explain procedures and chronic illnesses to children?’. In searching for answers, she learned that sick children utilise ‘Play’ and ‘imagination’ as a tool to cope with and understand their illnesses. When she moved to the UK, she came across Health Play Specialists (HPS), professional healthcare-workers who advocate for children and use ‘playful’ methods to improve communication with, and the lived-experience of, children in hospital. Her research was aimed to find the strategies and methods we, adult-caregivers, can and need to learn from HPS to effectively communicate with children.

How did we do it?

Certified HPS working within the UK healthcare system were invited to participate in semi-structured interviews. Some of the questions that were asked, to the twelve (12) participants, included: (1) ‘In your role as a HPS, what methods do you employ to explain chronic-illnesses to children?’; (2) Physicians may not consider utilising ‘Play’, whilst providing explanations to sick-children. What advice or strategies would you recommend to general-practitioners, or paediatricians, that could be incorporated into their daily clinical practice? All their responses were transcribed and analysed until clear patterns were identified.

What did we find?

Health Play Specialists highlighted the importance of ‘Play’ for ill children, explained how they utilise material-resources to explain illnesses and procedures to children, shared some of the structural challenges they face as a profession and taught us how to effectively communicate with children. The main findings invite us to: (1) build rapport with children; (2) observe and listen to their questions and opinions; (3) use developmentally appropriate language and small doses of information; as well as (4) be continuously honest with them. In addition, this research invites healthcare professionals to leave behind hierarchical structures, as well as adopt a ‘Pro-Play’ mindset, which they can incorporate into medical/healthcare training. And finally, these findings encourage all adults to avoid underestimating or overlooking children’s opinions.

Published paper

Read Paulina’s open-access journal article in the Journal of Child Health Care.