The power of play is undeniable when visiting a children’s hospital. During my last visit to Randall Children’s Hospital as a Chelsea’s Closet volunteer, I had the joy of witnessing this yet again with our dress up program. I entered a room with a 6 year old boy who clearly had just undergone a painful procedure. His parents were trying to distract him and comfort him while he lay in bed, upset. As a parent as well as a child therapist, my heart aches to see the pain in a child’s eyes, reflected in the parent’s faces. This child’s eyes lit up and even a slight smile crossed his face when I showed him a few costume choices (and I’m sure the turkey hat I was wearing was part of the smirk, too). He loved the Timbers uniform and ball he chose and, if even for a moment, he was transported to being a carefree kid who doesn’t have to think about words like cancer treatment or blood draws or tube changes. His parents were teary eyed at having a release and way to comfort their son as we only have so many tricks in our parenting toolbox. This experience, of course, isn’t unique when volunteering but it is so special every single time it occurs.
Even though play therapy is evidence based (and you can find lots of journal articles and research that proves how effective play therapy is for kids in crisis), the real proof for me comes with every smile, small sigh of relief, and tear that we see at the hospital. It is an honor for Chelsea’s Closet to be invited into Portland’s two children’s hospitals, to be able to meet families who are experiencing such a tough time in their lives, and to provide a glimmer of hope, laughter, and joy to children.
As JCF von Schiller said, “Through play, reality loses its seriousness”. It is absolutely critical to create opportunities in hospitals for kids to actively play, laugh, and experience childhood. This therapeutic play program allows kids to remember that they are kids—play is their language to express their emotions and to have some power in their daily lives. Children’s natural inclination is to play as a means of working through feelings, solving problems, adapting, adjusting, coping, and feeling powerful in an often helpless feeling situation. Chelsea’s Closet creates a playful time that often reduces the intensity of what families are enduring and helps reduce kids’ fears. And sometimes it’s just a nice, humorous release for families in serious times.
With the advent of the holidays and a new year quickly approaching, these moments really resonate with me. We are so excited to share CHF’s programs with families and are hopeful that we will be able to serve even more families in 2014. We are always looking for more playful volunteers who want to wear their own silly hat and help bring smiles to kids in our community. Please contact us in the new year if you’d like to hear more about our exciting upcoming changes.
Karyn Sandhu, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Serves on: CHF Board and CHF Clinical Services Committee (Chair)
“I am inspired by every child & family I meet & love witnessing firsthand the positive, healing power of play & dress up for kids.”