Some expert advice for helping our kids

May 6, 2020

Some of you know that once a week I volunteer at Bristol Royal Hospital for children with the Play Team. Being able to support this amazing team is very humbling. Watching them at work is inspiring, whether it’s as simple as making patients laugh to helping prepare their patients for serious procedures.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to get some advice from the experts on how we can better support children during these times. Let me introduce you to Katie and Rhian.

Hello! We’re Play Specialists working at Bristol Royal Hospital for children.

What’s a Play Specialist you ask?

Play specialists support sick children and young people during their hospital stay through medical play and exploration before and after procedures, distraction therapy during medical procedures and general normalisation play in hospital. We support patients, siblings and families. 

From experience, we know that children are incredibly resilient. However, this is often underestimated and overlooked. Children, even from a very young age, are very adaptable and learn to cope with very difficult situations, if they are given the right tools and support. Our top tips would include:

1. Finding “normal” things to occupy children

Simple things such as helping with jobs around the house, caring for pets and assisting with the cooking and gardening can provide a sense of independence, responsibility and control.

2. Back to Basics Activities

Keep it simple with activities such as I-spy, drawing, hide and seek, storytelling, story writing and physical movement. Also try nature activities such as cloud spotting, bug hunts and generally encouraging them to explore the world around them.

3. Opportunities to be silly and expressive

As adults we can give this to ourselves, but children often need permission to release in this way.

4. Structure and routine

These are important elements to consider, as well as keeping behavioural boundaries in place.

5. Boredom

It is OKAY to not have to occupy your children all the time. Boredom is good. It creates imagination and grows creativity. Children will naturally come to an inventive form of play that they create on their own without any external stimulation when given the opportunity.

Within our roles, we also empower children to express their feelings and emotions. It is important that both positive and negative emotions are recognised.

For example, when working with a child that is scared we acknowledge their fears and work with them to develop coping strategies. This sounds really complex, but is actually about finding ways for children to channel their emotions and feelings in a variety of safe expressions, such as practicing simple breathing exercises or even bashing up some play-doh.

In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have continued to acknowledge the fears of children and young people around the subject. We have used tools such as dressing up characters to look like the medical team to normalise the PPE equipment that all staff need to wear and we continue to do our job as we usually would, see photo above

We have also noticed that children are often touching on the subject of death more regularly than they necessarily would due to media reports. We have encouraged these conversations rather than shutting them down. We have also been reassuring families that it is normal for children to do this and empowering them with how to answer difficult questions in an age-appropriate manner.

Ways that you can support your children with difficult questions and themes around the Covid-19 situation are:

  • To be receptive to any questions that come up. Do not dismiss as this can cause more anxiety as children are aware something is being hidden.
  • To give them the right amount of age appropriate information. Do not overload them and only answer what they have asked. Remember to focus on positive aspects.

For example:

  • Mummy what if I catch coronavirus and die?
  • We’ve all been asked to stay home together so we can all keep safe and not get the virus. Everyone is looking after each other and as long as we follow the rules and wash our hands, we’ll be okay and it will all be over soon. But isn’t it nice we get to do all of these lovely things together at home?


  • Why can’t we see nanny? Why can’t I give grandad a hug? Why can’t my friends come to play? Why could no-one come to my birthday party?
  • It’s not just us. Everybody has to stay at home, it is very strange and is making everyone very sad but it’s just to keep us and all of our friends and family safe. It won’t last forever. There will be plenty of time to catch up on hugs and playing soon. If you’re missing them shall we ring them, or maybe we could make them a special picture and put it in the post?

Thanks to Katie and Rhian who are Play Specialist at the Bristol Royal Hospital for children for this guest blog.

How will you help your children?

You might also like to read ‘How to survive and thrive as a family in this uncertain world’  

Or why not check out my Youtube channel for ‘5 tips to help you with self care

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