Play is the language of children. Very young people are not yet cognitively developed in language skills to articulate feelings and worries as adults do. Words are abstract concepts for children who think concretely until they are 9-12. So play is their natural medium of expression and may be the only way they may communicate their thoughts and concerns. Children substitute experience for thinking in play and “play out” their feelings and internal world. A trained Play Therapist observes the metaphor, symbolism and patterns in their child-centered play related to their underlying feelings. The therapist reflects back to the child their feelings and thoughts while they play to increase their perception of being deeply heard, understood and affirmed, which activates the healing process. This technique helps them link thoughts and feelings with behaviors to increase their self-awareness, as well. Depending on the child’s needs, a combination of structured and unstructured play experiences can be used in play therapy. Family play therapy facilitates a common ground for communication, promoting cooperation and problem solving.
Play is serious and therapeutically purposeful. Children will project their consciousness onto toys or through various art medium, and the therapist may observe what may be on the child's mind as their most immediate concerns. This way, we may understand the source of some of the child's worries that may be masked with concerning behaviors. Children also learn limits and rules of the playroom, creative thinking and problem solving to gain a sense of age-appropriate mastery and competency. They gain self-esteem through achievement of developmental tasks and skills - we let them do for themselves, return responsibility and let them make their own decisions. Play is vital to the cognitive, physical and social development of children; it is a preparation for real life where they learn to deal with conflict, frustration and chaos. What is learned is generalized outside the playroom into their everyday lives. It is also a safe place to play out or vent anger, troubled feelings and worries. These play experiences can help move a child through their developmental "stuck" spots. Play therapy emphasizes the healing power of the therapeutic child-therapist relationship in a safe, empathic and respectful atmosphere. It is truly a child's hour.
What do I tell my child about coming to see you?
Tell him or her they are coming to see “Suzette,” who plays with children in her special playroom where there are lots of toys for them to play with.
If the child asks, “Why?” Just say, “Sometimes it helps to have special times with a special person.” Refrain from too much explaining, which can cause anxiety in a child. Giving details only serves to make the adult feel better about their own anxieties, which is a normal reaction to bringing a child to therapy.
In the waiting room, I will give your child my full attention, so please don’t think I am being rude. A child may be reluctant to go with me, as I will be a stranger for a while. I will introduce myself and say “We can go to the playroom now!” You can say, “Fine.” “I will wait right here and be right here when you get back,” in a reassuring voice. Saying, “bye bye” may make them think you are leaving for a long time, which may upset them. We try to keep child and therapist exclusively in the play setting so that the therapeutic relationship can begin quickly. However, if a child is overly reluctant, you can walk with us into the room the first time, but it is best for the therapist and child to interact solely. If a child cries, this is quite normal and nothing to worry about, as it may take a time or two for them to realize their experience is fun and safe.
The relationship with the therapist is very important. It would be best if you try not to undermine our therapeutic rapport, which is an important component of play therapy. If you talk about your child's poor behaviors to the therapist in front of your child - he/she will develop fears/anxieties and associate the therapist and play therapy with unpleasant, aversive ideas. The important therapeutic effect is diminished if he/she does not play freely and completely without anxieties about being “in trouble” with the therapist.
Please don’t quiz your child afterwards on what they did in play therapy. This reduces the feeling of safety about their play experiences. If the child thinks the parent and therapist have an alliance against them, it will damage the therapeutic relationship. I will give you my general impressions and recommendations in a private way through parenting sessions, but we want to respect a child's privacy and words - again, so they will respond freely in the Play Therapy Room and make quick progress towards set goals.