“Kids at this age love to play,” Majerczyk says. “That’s how they’re going to talk to you and communicate about what they’re feeling and experiencing.”
For instance, at the hospital, if a child is going to get a scan, she says she’ll bring in a doll or an action figure and act out that play with them. She’ll go through what the scan is like using language she thinks they’ll get.
“When a child doesn’t fully understand something, they’re going to fill in what they don’t understand with their imagination. Sometimes they’ll come up with some pretty scary things, and you as the adult will learn about those fears through playing with the toys. Then, using that same play, you can help them better understand what’s happening or going to happen and help calm their fears.”
For toddlers, play is likely going to be more self-directed, essentially whatever is on their mind at that moment. You can set up the toys, but toddlers will likely guide the play and you’ll want to watch, listen and see where it goes. For older kids, you may be able to give them a setup or prompts along with the toys to help guide them toward what you want to know.