Research has shown that play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego (Landreth, 2002). It is important for parents to understand that children learn through engaging in play. Specifically, play allows them to practice skills and roles needed for survival (Russ, 2004).
Why play therapy?
Many parents ask why is play therapy effective? Theoretically, play therapy is a structured therapy that builds on the communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O’Connor & Schaefer, 1983). Developmentally, children struggle to identify and express what is troubling them because they are still developing the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, children are learning to master rational thinking and problem solving skills through their interaction with the world around them.
In play therapy the therapist assists the child in connecting to their body and provides tools to help them identify what they are feeling. As their skills set increases they learn to express themselves through their imagination and make connections to how their behaviors affects others. This enables children to gain insight about inner conflict, maladaptive thinking, and conflict with others. This strengthens their sense of self which leads them to develop more adaptive ways of thinking, problem solving, and provides effective tools for resolving conflict.
Much research has been done to support the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems. The research includes: children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Bratton, Ray, Rhine, & Jones, 2005; LeBlanc & Ritchie, 2001; Lin & Bratton, 2015; Ray, Armstrong, Balkin, & Jayne, 2015; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).
What tools are utilized in play therapy?
Mindfulness activities are used to cultivate a child’s mind-body connection so that they learn to understand their emotions, express them, and regulate their body when it becomes overwhelmed. Creative activities are designed based upon each child’s natural interest in theater, music, sandtray, yoga, dance, art, writing, games, and imaginative toys to assist them in developing understanding of self and other, problem solving skills, emotion regulation, and conflict resolution skills. These activities also allow them to process experiences and develop skills to engage in healthy relationships with others.
What do parents gain from play therapy?
As play therapy often involves parents, they are able to observe how the therapist is engaging with the child. The parents also have opportunities to engage with their child utilizing tools the therapist is modeling. This helps parents feel more empowered and builds upon their strengths. When parents participate in play therapy it strengthens the parent-child attachment, provides tools for parents to assist their child in learning self-regulation skills, assists parents in managing their child’s disruptive behaviors, and assists the child in learning to focus, share, listen, and increase vocabulary.
“When I approach a child, he inspires in one of two sentiments-tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.” -Louis Pasteur