• play;
  • leukaemia;
  • stress;
  • illness;
  • children;
  • therapeutic


Background  The therapeutic function of play has been investigated in relation to recognized stressors such as hospitalization, illness and medical treatments for ill children. While medical treatments in the past 30 years have improved survival rates, children's psychological experiences and quality of life during and after their illness have received limited attention.

Objective  The present study investigated the therapeutic effects of play on 3- to 5-year-old children with leukaemia compared with a control group of healthy children.

Method  The participants with leukaemia (n = 11) were from the external oncology clinic of an urban children's hospital; control children (n = 11) attended a day care centre. Measures included children's experience of stress, social and cognitive play behaviours, and daily mood.

Results  A series of manova revealed that the children with leukaemia, compared with the control children, engaged in (a) significantly fewer total play behaviours, and in particular less (b) parallel, (c) group and (d) dramatic play. Pearson correlations revealed significant relationships between reports of ‘being happy’ and play only for children with leukaemia. Quantitative and qualitative analyses revealed a pattern of repetitive play activities week after week for children with leukaemia, but not controls.

Discussion  Findings are discussed in light of the theoretical and practical implications for children undergoing treatment for leukaemia.