How using play dough for pain relief to help comfort your kids

Play dough can be used in different ways to help your child cope with pain and discomfort. One of the more obvious benefits of play dough for pain relief is that it can be used as a distraction. As your child directs their focus to a new activity, pain becomes more of a background sensation. Instead of worrying about not feeling great, their attention is on how they are manipulating the clay. Play dough is an activity children can do sitting in a chair, or even lying in bed.

Why play dough is awesome

Play dough has been used for many years by occupational therapists because it is a fun and engaging way to tap into multiple senses. Play dough can also be used to directly address some of your child’s emotions and feelings about pain. Keep reading for creative activities to consider trying!

Benefits of playing with Play dough

  • It is something that you can make at home.
  • It provides children an opportunity to be creative
  • It activates multiple senses
  • It requires minimal setup
  • It can provide a great distraction from pain

Directed Play Vs Free play

Free play allows your child to do whatever they want with the play dough. The skies are the limit! Directed play is an activity where you walk your child through specific actions. Try both types of play and see what works best for your child.

A child builds something with play dough. Using play dough as a distraction can help comfort your kids when they are experiencing pain or discomfort.

Directed Play Ideas

Shrinking Pain

Instruct your child make a big glob of playdough. Tell them they can pretend the giant chunk of playdough is the pain they have been feeling. You can ask them what their pain looks like. They can add eyes, arms, or whatever they feel inspired to create. They can even just keep it as a lumpy glob of clay.

Next, tell them that they have the power to shrink their pain. Have them take away some play dough and make a smaller glob. Tell your child that they can make their pain as tiny as possible. Have them make the smallest play dough glob that they can.

Finally, instruct them they can make their pain disappear altogether. Have them take the little piece and place it where they can’t see it anymore.

Transforming Pain

Instruct your child to make another big glob of play dough. Again, ask them what their pain looks like and have them create it by adding details. This time, tell them that they have the power to transform their pain. Your child can reshape the play dough to look like anything they would like. Some ideas you could suggest, include making it into a heart, a tree, a smiley face, or anything else they can imagine.

Smoothing sharp pain

Show your child how to make a play dough ball. Have them add lots of spiky-like protrusions from it. You can take a moment to explain that sometimes pain can feel sharp and pointy. Tell them that they can smooth it all out. Have your child roll the dough until it is a perfectly round ball again. Have them describe the difference between the spiky ball and the smooth ball.

Melting Pain

Have your child make a bunch of icicle-like creations in front of them. Tell your child that these icicles can also represent pain. Instruct them to imagine the sun shining down brightly melting all of the icicles. They can take their hand and one by one smash the play dough into puddles.

Trying a few of these activities can help your child think about different ways to process their pain. It provides an opportunity for them to express their feelings in a creative way. Playing with the play dough can give them a sense of being in more control of their pain.

If you want to try making play dough at home, here is a quick and easy play dough recipe you can use.

Quick Play Dough Recipe


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1.5 cups boiling water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Essential oils (optional)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cream of tartar.
  2. Add the vegetable oil and boiling water to the dry ingredients and stir until a dough forms.
  3. Knead the dough with your hands until it becomes smooth and pliable.
  4. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and/or essential oils to the dough and knead until the color and scent are evenly distributed.
  5. Store the play dough in an airtight container when not in use.

Note: This play dough is not edible, so be sure to supervise or keep it away from young children who might put it in their mouths.

Final Thoughts

Playing with play dough is a great distraction for a child who isn’t feeling well. If you feel like engaging them with directed play, give it a try. If you think your child would prefer to free play, that’s great as well. Have fun discovering what works best for your child!

Looking for more ways to comfort your kids? Check out my articles on how to address your child’s pain in five steps, how to use the five love languages to comfort your child and 6 ways to use sound to help comfort your child.

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