Working it Out in the Hospital Room

Similar to other centers across the country, the Mourning Star Centers in Southern California have many themed rooms for children to experience. One type of themed room that all of our Mourning Star Centers have is a “pretend” Hospital Room. This pretend Hospital Room has a very similar look, feel and function to a “real” Hospital Room. So real, in fact, that when we installed our first Hospital Room years ago, I was walking past it and was caught off guard because it reminded me so much of the hospital room that my own mom had died in.

You might be thinking, “What is the purpose of such a room?” Many of the children and teens who come to the Mourning Star Center have had someone in their life that has died in the hospital. It is a powerful, thought-provoking room that allows children to explore a lot of their anxiety and fear surrounding the hospital. This pretend Hospital Room gives children the opportunity to face some of these fears with the help of trained staff and facilitators. For example, if dad died in the hospital, a child might feel apprehensive about going anywhere near another hospital room for fear that he or she will also enter the hospital and never come home again. Kids also have a lot of questions about what goes on in the hospital room. By having a pretend or mock Hospital Room, children can actually touch and experience items that are located in a real hospital. Some of these items include a stethoscope, a real hospital bed, pressure cuffs, IV pole and line, bandages and pretend medical charts.

Mourning Star’s Hospital Room also contains child-size lab coats, scrubs, surgical booties and hospital gowns. This allows a child the opportunity to assume the role of doctor in the play. Typically, a volunteer facilitator is the patient. In the Hospital Room, the child is the “director” of his or her experience. The child creates the scenario by deciding the Hospital Room roles, the diagnosis, the treatment and the prognosis. If more than one child is in the Hospital Room, then they decide the roles together.

A volunteer facilitator or staff person follows the lead of the child. The facilitator might ask: “What’s wrong with me?” or “Can I be helped or healed?” Other questions might include: “Can my family or friends come visit me?” or “Am I going to die?” You might be surprised by some of the answers given by grieving children. For example, children who have personally experienced the death of someone in their life realize that people don’t always live or “make it”. It is not unusual for a grieving child to tell his patient that he or she only has a short time left to live. Often, children are simply modeling what they have seen in their own family.

A typical scenario in the Hospital Room might go something like this:

A 10 year old child attended our Center because her father died from a brain injury. Her father was in the hospital for months at a time and received multiple brain surgeries. While playing in the Hospital Room, the child put a teddy bear in the hospital bed. She then wrapped the teddy bear’s head with bandages and applied an oxygen mask and a pressure cuff.  When the facilitator inquired about what was happening in the room, the child replied, “This is how I remember my dad.”  Next, she started telling her story, “My dad hurt his brain and had lots of surgeries and that’s why I put the bandages around his head.”

The facilitator asked, “What was it like for you to see your dad that way?” The child responded that it was scary and it made her worried. This opened up the opportunity for the child to discuss her fears and worries as it related to her father and all of his multiple surgeries. In my years of working with children in the Hospital Room, I have been witness to some compelling scenes that may not have happened without the Hospital Room setting.

If you are considering creating a pretend Hospital Room but don’t feel that you have the space, read on.  Even if you don’t have a separate room or large space, you can still create a designated hospital area in your center or program. I have seen some wonderful hospital room “areas” created out of a corner of a room.  The idea is to have a designated space where you can create a hospital room environment. 

You will also need to acquire some essential hospital room items. This can be done by checking with your local hospital, hospice, home health agency, medical equipment company, medical supply company, and scrub stores. You may also contact me at and I will email you a list of suggested hospital room items. Hopefully the photos that are included on this page will give you some ideas!

Pamela Gabbay, MA, FT
Director, Community Outreach and Mourning Star Centers
Camp Director, Camp Erin Children's Bereavement Camp
Visiting Nurse Association, California


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