Play Therapy for Children: What Is It, Benefits, and Techniques

play therapy for children

Play therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps children cope with their mental and emotional issues by exploring their thoughts and feelings. A play therapist helps children express and communicate their emotions, develop problem-solving skills, and change their behavior through this therapy.

Play therapy utilizes the therapeutic approach of play to create a safe environment for children to explore their life events at their own pace without feeling judged or distressed. It also ensures optimal growth and development of children by enabling them to learn about themselves and their abilities. Read the post to know about the types, techniques, and benefits of play therapy for children.

Types Of Play Therapy For Children

Play therapy is basically of two types:

1. Non-Directive Play Therapy

This play therapy is based on the idea that if children are given the freedom to play in an optimal environment, they can resolve their issues themselves. Therefore, in a non-directive approach, therapists allow the children to control the play while observing the children’s behavior. The idea of complete trust and acceptance encourages children to work toward their problems and find solutions.

2. Directive Play Therapy

Here, the therapist guides the children through specific activities that are goal-oriented and focus on building different skills. It is believed that therapy instruction and supervision may give faster therapeutic benefits to children.

Who Benefits From Play Therapy?

A study conducted in 2009 showed that when 41 school-aged children were given 14 sessions of child-centered play therapy, they showed a decrease in their aggressive behavior over time. Play therapy helps children deal with several other disorders too, such as follows:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (characterized by disobedient behavior)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Traumatic event
  • Depression
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Low-self esteem
  • Bullying
  • School problems
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Poor social skills
  • Adoption
  • Learning disabilities
  • Grief (suffered personal loss or experienced natural disasters)
  • Chronic illness
  • Relationship issues (difficulties with peers and siblings)
  • Family issues
  • Anger problems
  • Trouble reaching developmental milestones
  • Parent’s divorce

What Is The Neuroscience Behind Play Therapy?

Play therapy works well for people of all ages but is specially designed for children under 12. Children of this age, when encountered with a stressful event, do not know how to express their feelings. As a result, they may sometimes develop disruptive or aggressive behavior. In such cases, play therapy is one of the effective ways to help children understand and communicate their emotions. According to scientific research in the field of neuroscience,

  • A newborn’s brain cells are not fully developed. They lack the complexity of a mature brain.
  • The growth occurs in the first five years of life, and play therapy plays an important role in the initial development.
  • The interconnections between the neurons decide the social and emotional development of children.
  • They also influence learning and memory.
  • If children face an adverse or traumatic event during a young age, the effects are stored in the non-verbal part of their brains, through which expression is difficult.
  • Play therapy has proven to bring the memories stored in the non-verbal brain to the verbal brain, thus enabling children to express themselves.

Process Of Play Therapy

The process followed during the play therapy sessions are:

  • Each individual or group play therapy session lasts for around 30-45 minutes. Children are given a safe environment and specific toys that aim toward developing positive behavior.
  • The way children interact with their toys helps therapists understand their unexpressed emotions and feelings. Initially, therapists focus on just understanding a child’s behavior.
  • As the therapy progresses, they introduce new toys and playing techniques to specifically address the child’s issue.
  • Once the therapist interprets the child’s behavior, the family may be provided with a better understanding of how to handle the situation and help the child.
  • On some occasions, the child is encouraged to play in groups or with their families. This helps enhance the developmental process further.

Techniques Of Child Play Therapy

Child therapists may include different techniques in the playroom during the play therapy sessions. Some of these are:

  • Body play (involving the movement of various body parts)
  • Sand tray therapy (drawing symbols on the sand as a way of expression)
  • Nature play (unstructured outdoor activities)
  • Pretend play (using dollhouses, stuffed toys, and puppets)
  • Social play (interacting with peers while playing)
  • Creative play
  • Vocal play (using voices to relate to the environment)
  • Assessment play (a therapist evaluating the child’s thought process)
  • Storytelling
  • Creative visualization
  • Bibliotherapy (reading books to deliver positive messages)
  • Filial therapy (family therapy sessions for better child-parent relationships)
  • Expressive arts therapy (engaging through art supplies, clay modeling, poetry, dance, drawing, and painting)
  • Talk therapy (involving a conversation with children)
  • Animal interaction

Benefits Of Play Therapy

Play therapy helps children:

  • Communicate feelings effectively. On most occasions, young children find it too overwhelming to express themselves in words. Play creates an opportunity for them to communicate their thoughts in a non-verbal way.
  • Learn advanced motor skills.
  • Learn social skills during group play.
  • Release excess energy and stay calm.
  • Build confidence by developing the power of self-expression.
  • Develop creativity and imagination. Exhibit more responsible and acceptable behavior.
  • Develop creative problem-solving skills.
  • Develop new relational skills with family.
  • Become more respectful, empathetic, and accepting toward others.

What To Look For While Selecting A Child Therapist?

To ensure the overall healthy development of children, child-centered play therapists should

  • Develop a kind and compassionate relationship with the child.
  • Accept the child without judgment.
  • Make the child feel safe and free.
  • Encourage the child to develop self-understanding.
  • Believe in the abilities of the child.
  • Allow the child to express themselves freely.
  • Respect the gradual process of improvement.

The healing benefits of play are immense. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), play helps a child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Therefore, let your children express themselves through different forms of play. If you feel your children are dealing with some issue, take the help of a child therapist and let your children unleash their potential.

Image Credit: freepik

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