The Importance of Child's Play

When an everyday doll becomes something far greater.

Playing with a favourite doll - just one of the everyday things most children will do and a very common thing to see during play dates with friends, time at nursery, time at home with family and being lovingly trailed around everywhere else!

But when does a doll become something far greater and become a vital support or learning tool for a brother or sister who has a sibling with a complex disability and life-limiting condition? 

This article gives an insight into some of the support work Charlie House carries out for siblings and how a bespoke adapted doll has become a powerful tool in the support journey. Leigh Ryrie, Children and Family Support Manager, explains:

"At Charlie House the importance of learning through play and playing to evoke thoughts, feelings and emotions in a safe environment is vital. In one of my previous roles I worked as a play specialist within the Play Department at Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital where they used similar dolls to prepare children for medical procedures, and they worked fantastically well. I took inspiration from this and decided to create a bespoke doll to allow interactive play for the siblings we support and to help increase understanding of the medication and equipment that their brother or sister has - the noise, the workings and where they are placed on the body. By creating something which the siblings can play with together and through role play, you start to find out what the siblings know or have heard which means we can then adapt the support they require.

"I introduced the adapted doll at the beginning of the year and it has proved very popular. The family feedback has been wonderful with one family saying that their children were absolutely over the moon seeing to their baby who's just as special as their wee sister! These bespoke dolls can also be adapted with the parents to allow us the chance to find out more about each child's medical condition and this also opens the lines of communication between us and the parent/s. 

"Having the comfort of this adapted doll may also make hospital stays easier for the siblings as they might have an increased understanding of what is happening to their brother or sister, this is something which gives them an element of control."

An adapted doll, which looks just like Baby Noa
An adapted doll, which looks just like Baby Noa


Local mum Eleanor, whose family is supported by Charlie House and who jointly adapted the doll with Leigh to replicate daughter Noa's medical needs, said: 

"This doll was adapted to match our daughters needs with various tubes hanging about, which obviously isn't normal with standard dollies! Her brother and sister were absolutely delighted to come from and see the doll who looked just like their sister. Her big sister was so excited, she took it into school the next day to try and teach her friends about the tubes Noa has and why she needs them.

"It wasn't only a great doll for them to play with which reflected their own version of reality, but also an amazing learning tool to teach their peers about life at home, and what kind of things they see and help to do. Life as a special needs sibling can be very difficult at times, and them being able to show what their siblings has to do can be massively beneficial to the child to seek support, and for their friends to gain understanding of what their life is like."


Siblings Eden and Elias with their adapted doll
Siblings Eden and Elias with their adapted doll


Charlie House sibling support also includes visits at school, home or at a venue best suited for each individual child. This gives them the opportunity to have a safe confidential space to share thoughts, feelings and worries with someone outwith the family network. The Charlie House team also offer an opportunity for siblings to attend fantastic, free sibling club activities which range from graffiti art to rock climbing to paper and superhero parties to cinema trips. There is always something exciting and hands on to try and these clubs give the opportunity for siblings to meet other peers who may also have a brother or sister with similar needs. 

If you are interested in this type of support for your family or would like to find out more please contact Leigh Ryrie, Children and Family Support Manager, on leigh@charliehouse.org.uk or 01224 313333

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