Play therapy is a form of therapy developed and used mainly for children in the age range of 3 – 12. Play Therapy is useful because younger children and children with Autism, or ADHD symptoms may not be able to process their own emotions or even articulate them. It’s also likely that many children do not even understand their own emotions or that all emotions are okay if given the required attention.
Often a child will be given to understand that certain emotions such as anger, fear, shame and worry are signs of weakness and a child will suppress those emotions, bottling them up and possibly creating mental health issues in later years.
Explaining Play Therapy to parents
Play therapy has been shown by research to be the most effective way to connect with children therapeutically and provide a means to heal and grow. Play is a natural stress reliever. When children get to play, they are able to release stress and anxiety, and this helps them regulate their emotion and make better choices.
Fortunately, there are many forms of play therapy available, ranging from accredited Play Therapists for serious behavior issues all the way through to family members learning specific games to play with their own children to help them understand and deal with their concerns and problems. Assisting them to make empowered choices based on emotional intelligence rather than reacting first and repairing later.
While Play Therapy may look like ‘playtime’ it is structure play with an intention. A trained therapist can observe and gain insights into a child’s problem, helping them explore and deal with anxiety, bullying, school problems, covid trauma and more. Through these observations and play a child can learn new coping mechanisms and how to redirect inappropriate behavior.
Explaining Play Therapy to a child
Children love to play. So, if you have chosen to take your child to a trained play therapist here are a few tips to help you explain to them where they are going and what to expect when they get there.
Children are smart but they are still children so use language that they will
Be honest and don’t ‘surprise’ them. Make sure they have enough notice to
get comfortable with the idea of going somewhere else to play.
If it feels right, show them a picture of the play therapist playing a game.
Describe this as an adventure
Make sure they know this is ‘for’ them and not ‘against’ them. There is nothing broken and nothing to fix
Create some fun things to do on the way or coming back from the visit.
And above all listen, listen, listen. When a child knows they are being heard, healing happens. The best words to use are “Oh that’s interesting” “Can you explain that to me a bit more?” “I’ve never thought about it like that” “Yes, you’re right.” Be curious, see the situation from their perspective and all will be well. Perhaps it’s time for you to play too!
Benefits of play therapy
According to the professional organization Play Therapy International, up to 71% of children referred to play therapy experience positive change.
Some of the potential benefits of play therapy are:
Taking more responsibility for certain behaviors
Better coping skills and creative problem solving
Increased Self Confidence and Self Esteem
Greater respect and empathy for others
Releases anxiety and other unhelpful emotions
Builds Emotional Intelligence
Better social skills
Stronger family engagement
Better communication and language skills
It should be noted that if your child has a diagnosed or physical illness, play therapy doesn’t replace medication or other treatment. However, play therapy can be used alongside medication and/or other therapies.