Play Therapy...That's What It's All About!
Sometimes kids aren't able to successfully cope with the challenges of this world. That's where play therapy comes in - it helps children resolve their problems!
A few weeks ago we published a blog post regarding the challenges that children, teens, and even parents are facing right now, relating to pandemic stressors. 71% of caregivers across the US reported that the COVID 19 pandemic has negatively impacted their children’s mental health (Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago). Seventy-one percent represents quite a majority of our children.
Why are the youngest are the most vulnerable?
They are physically smaller so their very survival and safety is dependent upon their caregivers.
They haven’t reached many developmental milestones to even care for themselves, much less defend or speak up for themselves.
They don’t have contextual skills to process painful events – many young children falsely believe that painful circumstances that happen are their own fault.
Their language development is insufficient for them to put words to their feelings or to adequately express their perceptions
We know it is our jobs as parents and adults to keep children safe and to teach them skills to successfully cope with and navigate through the challenges of this world. But what if painful events take place while the child is young?
Helping Our Youngest Clients Cope
The difficulties adults face when small children are suffering are that :
Children have the capacity to feel all the feelings we adults feel
BUT children lack the language and cognitive processing skills to adequately express or cope with what they are feeling.
Adults often find themselves confused, frustrated, misunderstanding, or overlooking the pain their children are feeling. Remember from last month’s post, young children express their feelings through acting out, clingy behavior, developmental regression, tearfulness, or physical complaints that seem to have no medical cause.
Left unaddressed for long periods of time, children are vulnerable to internalize inaccurate or ineffective belief systems about themselves, their caregivers, and/or the world at large. For example, they may doubt their own self worth, or their safety in this world, their sense of competence or even a sense of trust in themselves or in adults. Over time, these beliefs crystallize and shape the child’s self esteem and social skills, potentially for a life time.
We therapists do a lot of reparative work to help our adult clients uncover these false beliefs that were formed in their youth. These are the false beliefs that lead to addictions, problems with school and work, problems with relationships, anxiety and depression….you name it and on and on.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could proactively assist young children express their feelings in a safe environment, and give them coping skills to better prepare them for their future? Wouldn’t it be amazing to give children more support when they are young to prevent mental health, relationship, and addictions when they get older?
Well, yes, we can! This is where Play Therapy comes in.
How Does Play Therapy Help Your Child?
As stated previously, children lack the skills to understand events around them and process their feelings effectively. Instead of “using their words”, children may misbehave or otherwise act out at home, with friends, and at school. Play therapy allows licensed mental health practitioners who are certified in play therapy, to assess and understand how children's play reflects how they are feeling inside.
By the way, only clinicians certified in Play Therapy are allowed to state they offer Play Therapy. Before choosing a therapist for your child, be sure sure to check with the Association of Play Therapists to ensure their certification is up to date. Beware of false advertising!
Because play is the language of children, play therapy is utilized to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to problems in the “language” they understand. This “language” includes what children often find in their own toy boxes at home: puppets, dolls, art supplies, games, and any other fun goodies kids can get into their little hands. Children do not have the skills to navigate their real life settings, which may feel quite threatening.
By confronting problems in the clinical Play Therapy setting, children feel safer to find healthier solutions. Additionally, by developing a safe relationship with children, play therapists provide comfort and hope while bearing witness to emotional pain.
Play Therapy helps children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems. These include: problems related to parental divorce, death, relocation, bullying, chronic illness, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters. And yes, even the effects of a worldwide pandemic.
How is Play Therapy Different?
Play is a fun, enjoyable activity that elevates our spirits and brightens our outlook on life. It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization, and self-efficacy. It 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 .
Play therapy is traditionally suited for children aged 3 – 12, but even infants, toddlers, teens and grow ups benefit from therapeutic use of play. We all love to play!
Typical symptoms that Play Therapy can help alleviate are: anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, ADHD symptoms, autistic spectrum disorders, oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, anger management, crisis and trauma, grief and loss, academic and social development problems, and physical and learning disabilities. It really is an effective option for helping our youngest clients.
Interested in play therapy for your child? SoulSpring's very own Grace Childs is a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor. When Grace is "playing" with your kids (ahem! doing Play Therapy), you know they are in the hands of a well-educated, compassionate, and experienced professional! For more information on SoulSpring's work with children, visit our website here. For a free consultation regarding how Play Therapy may help your child, please call (561) 463-3078.
Portions of the content of this article may be found on the Association of Play Therapists website.