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The benefits of play in pediatric palliative care

Translation: Courtesy of Carmen St-Pierre

The Lighthouse’s motto is “Have fun until the very end” and, in that perspective, the staff of the Lighthouse, more specifically the education/animation team, animates and accompanies the children during their respite. From arts and crafts to musical and sensory stimulation activities, fun and play are first and foremost.

Playing is an essential activity in a child’s development. It helps children develop numerous skills and prepares them for the world in general. In pediatric palliative care, play is a means of communication and normalization. For a child, playing is not superfluous or just a way to pass time, it is absolutely essential to his development. Playing is a privileged path of communication with the child. Playing can really help in stressful situations and can bring the child to forge a more positive image of his experience.

Playing contributes to the normalization of childhood with an important therapeutic and social significance. Through play, we fight against fear, sadness, boredom or solitude. It allows children to communicate what they feel without necessarily verbalizing their feelings or fears. It is the actions of playing that allow the young ones to send a message, to externalize their emotions.

Playing is of prime importance at the Lighthouse but also as a family: it is an activity and a privileged time that the child can spend with his parents. When they are playing with their child, the parents get to see him in a new light and conversely, the child gets to discover new aspects of his parents. The child realizes that his parents are just like him, they enjoy laughing, they can sometimes have funny ideas and they know how to have fun.

At the Lighthouse, we try to stimulate the children through numerous amusing and therapeutic activities: the playful mixes with the sensory while adapting to the mobile, physical and cognitive capacities of each child. The role of the education/animation team is not simply to keep the children entertained but also to awaken and stimulate them, to make them discover, experiment and feel different things through play.

All everyday activities can become a game - even the moments of medical care -   and many times playing helps the child prepare for the treatments. Most importantly, playing allows the child to blossom like any other child and provides him a pleasurable escape from his aches and pains.

The Lighthouse offers medical care but it is also a house where children are led to live beautiful experiences. Through non medicinal activities and therapies, we seek to stimulate the senses in the most positive way. Certain discomforts can be diminished by distraction and rejoicing, and it is for the mental wellness of both children and parents that this remains important.

Let’s not forget that when the end of life approaches, the comfort of having family by our side is important. We have to pay attention to the signs that the child gives us and, if he feels like playing, it is good and even necessary to respond to his needs. We don’t mean elaborate games, sometimes just a simple game of peek-a-boo, tickling, singing while making funny faces or making jokes are the best games. The essential thing is to find pleasure and have fun until the very end.

Elodie BUOB (TES-EA)