What is Play Therapy for Children?
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers.
Play promotes language development, social-emotional expansion and cognitive growth. Different from adults, who are much more adept at using words to express what they think, feel, believe, or want, children are still developing those skills on a behavioral and neurological level. Therefore, when children are having a difficult time, it will most often manifest in the form of behavioral changes or difficulty achieving developmental milestones. It is important for caregivers to understand that children are hypersensitive to all they are exposed to through the adults in their life. Children experience emotions more intensely and much more deeply than adults simply because there is so much they are experiencing for the first time and thus, are naturally more sensitive. Changes in family structure or living situation, loss of a pet or loved one, parental conflict, raised voices, aggressive language, domestic violence, divorce, introduction to new significant others, nutritional deficiency, and being repeatedly reprimanded are some of the stressors stemming from the environment or grown-ups in their lives.
Therefore, while children are still developing their language and expression skills, acting out through play is the language they use to reveal feelings, thoughts, fears, and desires.
Child and Play therapy recognizes this and utilizes it constructively, to help children express what is troubling them since they do not yet have the verbal skills to express their feelings and thoughts. Therapists who incorporate child and play therapy encourage a child’s most natural mode of expression; play, – aiming to help children learn more adaptive behaviors and discover alternative ways of coping. Child and Play therapy is a theoretically based, structured intervention that builds on the inherent learning and communicative processes of children ages 3-12. Teenagers and adults have also benefited from play techniques and recreational processes.
Is Play Therapy Right for My Child?
Young children communicate through play. Pretend play allows children to assume the control they so rarely experience living in a world run by adults. They are free to express their emotional experience—what it feels like to be them. Therapeutic play helps children with social or emotional deficits, learn to communicate better, change their behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and relate to others in positive ways. It is appropriate for children undergoing or witnessing stressful events in their lives, such as a serious illness or hospitalization, separation/divorce, domestic violence, abuse, trauma, a family crisis, or an upsetting change in their environment. Child and Play therapy can help children with academic and social difficulties, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, grief, or anger, as well as those with attention deficit disorders or who are on the autism spectrum. Family play therapy can also be particularly effective at strengthening family relationships.
At Awakened Path, Child or Play Therapy is integrated with our foundational holistic approach. Therefore, the therapist will assess for the root causes and the child’s strengths not limited to, bed-time routine, diet, environmental stressors, parenting, trauma, amount of daily screen time etc. Upon scheduling an appointment, parents or guardians are notified they will first meet with the therapist without the child present. Parents and guardians who are bringing their child for treatment, should be prepared to be an integral part of the therapeutic process. We invite caretakers into their child’s world and provide parenting education and strategies. Sometimes those strategies include parents starting their own individual treatment or enrolling in parenting classes. In the words of our founder, “You are your child’s greatest asset in succeeding.” Sustainable progress requires the consistent involvement of all caregivers. Developing insight regarding what the child’s individual needs are and learning how to fulfill those needs in day-to-day life are an integral part of seeing long-term change.
Therapeutic play takes place in a safe, child-friendly, comfortable play area. There are a wide array of recreational/play therapy techniques used. Directive play therapy is structured and guided by the therapist. While, non-directive play therapy is based on the principle that children can resolve their own issues given the right conditions and the freedom to play with limited instruction and supervision. Very few rules or limits are imposed on the child, encouraging free expression; and allowing the therapist to observe the child’s choices, decisions, and play style. A treatment plan is individualized and designed based on presenting needs. The goal is to help children learn to express themselves in healthier ways, heal from emotional pain, become more respectful and empathetic, and discover new and more positive ways to solve problems.