That period of time between toddler and adolescent is crucial for healthy progress through specific developmental milestones. Children are susceptible to environmental stress that can cause adverse reactions in any child’s world. This stress can be death of family/parent(s), natural disasters, financial, homelessness, sickness, divorce, relocation, and even academics. Our world encourages each generation of children to grow up faster than the last, which could be preventing important advancement in personal resilience for each child.
For children, their world is filled with fantasies and creative imagination. Sometimes, children struggle to understand and process the sense of reality around them. Stressors can cause children to have a hard time expressing their thoughts and feelings. When we think about expressing our thoughts and feelings, we tend to think of the typical back and forth verbal communication. However, most children have a hard time articulating their thoughts and feelings, and can suppress and internalize negative reactions to high stress situations.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary (n.d) defines play therapy as “psychotherapy in which a child is encouraged to reveal feelings and conflicts in play rather than verbalization”. With that being said, play can provide a secondary medium for children to express issues, current and past based on their own agenda. According to Terry Kottman and Kristin Meany-Walen (2018), authors of the book Doing Play Therapy, they say “play therapy is the systematic and formalized application of play to help prevent or resolve psychosocial challenges and achieve optimal growth and development”. In latent terms, play helps children thrive!
Now play therapy can be done with a therapist who specializes with children and adolescents, which our practice can assist you with. In addition, the following discusses four different techniques that you can use as a parent. These skills can be a helpful tool for parents, due to the benefit of increasing healthy attachment, increased emotional regulation skills, and self-awareness skills for the child.
Reflection: This skill is performed by the parent being present during the play and verbally describing the emotional state of their child. This is done by reading verbal or nonverbal cues. For example, if your child says “I drew a lion”, as the parent you say “I see you drew a lion”.
Praise: As a parent, being present also allows you to experience the moment with your child during their play. Using this skill can appropriately reinforce healthy behaviors. For example, if the child is engaged in craft, acknowledge their work and state “you are working so hard, great job!”.
Excitement: While this skill seems basic, it is important to show the child you are invested with their play and are in the moment with them. Statements such as “This is so fun!”, and “This game is a great idea!” can help the child reinforce their independence.
Narrative: Being the child’s narrator during play, can provide the child feedback that you are in the moment and present during their play. This allows for increase in healthy attachment between parent and child. Using statements such as “You seem to love that purple crayon” and “I see you drawing a lot of animals today”.
It is important to keep note, that while during a child’s play, you are invited into their own world and imagination. This is a very sacred and valuable place that a child can invite you to, and allow the child to be the director and creator of the play.
If you are interested in seeing how play therapy could help your child, please contact Therapy Etc. Play therapy is a widely evidenced based form of therapy to help children ages 3 to 11 understand their world and deal with stressors.