PLAY THERAPY IS TO CHILDREN WHAT COUNSELING IS TO AN ADULT.
WHAT IS PLAY THERAPY?
Play is the child’s natural way of communicating just as talking is the adult’s natural way of communicating. In the playroom, toys are used like words and play is the children’s language. Children can communicate through play saying with toys what they have difficulty saying with words. Adults when bothered or worried often speak to others, when speaking to someone who really cares and understands you feel better. The trained play therapy facilitates the child being able to express their feelings through the medium of toys.
WHAT HAPPENS IN PLAY THERAPY?
The children are allowed to play with toys in many different ways in the playroom. The therapist creates a safe and therapeutic environment for the child to express their emotions freely. The therapist follows the child’s lead during the session. Basic therapeutic skills include reflecting emotional content, tracking behaviors and limit setting. These skills encourage the child to express their emotional content freely. Limits are set when needed creating a “reality check” for the child. The therapist will interact with the child in play as they are invited.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PLAY THERAPY?
Play therapy allows children to
(a) learn about their world,
(b) express their thoughts and feelings,
(c) learn about their capabilities,
(d) learn about appropriate limits on behaviors,
(e) develop physical and mental skills,
(f) develop effective social skills and emotional bonds,
(g) work through their problems.
Play therapy bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought. Through play therapy, children learn effective coping skills. We cannot change past experiences but we can help children develop a sense of control and healing about negative past experiences.
WHEN DO CHILDREN NEED PLAY THERAPY?
The majority of children can benefit from play therapy as play is a child’s natural means of communicating. All children need to learn appropriate coping skills. Children experiencing difficulties coping, or are exhibiting behaviors that are concerning to parents or teachers can benefit from play therapy. Children dealing with a variety of issues social, emotional, behavioral, learning problems, including: anxiety, fearfulness, anger, depression, sadness, impulsivity, low self-esteem, social withdrawal, bullying, learning disorders, and behavioral disorders.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREPARE YOUR CHILD FOR PLAY THERAPY?
Children’s growth through play therapy may be gradual as each child’s experience is dictated by their personality and the experiences they have had. The length of time in therapy can be discussed with your therapist during parent consultations. We encourage consistent interaction with parents. The language used in play therapy is important. Here are some ideas to help discuss play therapy with your child.
WHAT TO TELL YOUR CHLD ABOUT COMING TO PLAY THERAPY?
You may tell you child they are coming to be with Dr Ruth in a special playroom every week where there are lots of toys. If they want to know why explain, “When things are hard for you at home (or at school, or ____), sometimes it helps to have a special place to play”.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR SESSIONS
Since the paints and sandbox are often messy, we suggest you let your child wear old clothes you won’t mind getting soiled. Take your child to the bathroom before each session. Reassure your child you will be waiting for them when he/she comes out of the playroom.
AFTER THE SESSION
Refrain from asking questions about what your child did, what happened, or was it fun. Just say, “Hi. We can go home now.” Listen carefully and allow your child to lead the conversation. This allows them to establish an internal focus of control and continues the mentality of the play session. You can speak to your counselor for examples of how to encourage an internal focus of control. Sometimes they may bring a painting or drawing home. Instead of praising them, simply say: “You used lots of color. There’s some blue, and green in the picture.” This allows the child to feel a sense control and accomplishment not completing tasks for your benefit but for their own. They will be teenagers some day and you won’t always be around to influence their decisions. Helping them develop an internal focus of control allows them to do the right thing for themselves not just for you.