Ready, Aim, Fire

where's the nerf gun?

I recently used one of my favorite interventions with a patient, a school age kid who was refusing to participate in many parts of the treatment plan.  Lots of hiding, yelling, silent treatment, and not getting out of bed. We started slow with just short play sessions with Legos and other toys. After a few sessions of general play, I felt we had enough rapport to try a more feelings-oriented intervention.

I brought in paper, markers and some collage supplies.  I explained that we were going to be making a target and that he could decorate it however he liked. He could put anything on it that he didn’t like about being sick or in the hospital. He was shy at first and only put three things on the paper. We were going to use wet toilet paper to throw at the target, but he suggested we use his small foam nerf gun. Brilliant! He wanted me to play too, so we took turns aiming at the target and saying something he had written on the paper. After a few rounds he really engaged with the activity and wanted to add more items to his target. He communicated in full sentences and was able to talk a little bit about the difficult parts of being sick. It was a fun activity and it was nice to see him more animated and playful. We also got to talk about a few things that helped make the difficult things easier. He wanted to keep the target up in his room so that he could play with it later and show his sibling.  It was a bright spot in my day when I heard him explaining it to his family later in the evening.

I can’t take credit for inventing this activity, as I learned it from one of my child life internship supervisors. I have since used it in a variety of settings and heard of several variations. Here are a few suggestions if you want to incorporate it into your child life toolbox:

Target Activity


  • paper
  • markers, crayons or colored pencils
  • stickers and decorating supplies
  • toilet paper and water OR foam dart gun
  • towels for cleanup
  • Variation: Use washable markers on a piece of vinyl material (like a blank banner, tablecloth, or white tarp) and throw wet sponges or water balloons. The words and pictures will wash away as the child hits the target.

1. Identify the focus of the target (things they don’t like about the hospital, worries they have, things that make them angry related to diagnosis or grief, etc.)

2. Introduce the supplies and the focus of the activity. Let them know that they can put anything they like on their target using words or pictures.

3. Throw/shoot at the target! Encourage them to verbalize what they are aiming at when they throw ex: “I don’t like taking medicine”

4. End the session with time to cool down.

Photo Credit: Jake Vance via Flickr


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