28 Jul Why is my Child Playing During Therapy?
Therapy means different things for different people. For adults, therapy often relies on talking, reflecting, and using questions to consider your goals and develop new skills. With children, therapy is often more play-based to support children’s participation and focus. Play is how young children learn about the world, form relationships, and develop skills. When you join your child in therapy, it can look like they are just playing with toys and games. You may wonder, “But how is this different than how they play at home or at school?” Based on your goals for your child, your therapist will engage them in activities to support their developmental and emotional needs.
How Is Play Therapeutic For Your Child?
When they engage in turn-taking games, children are building their ability to wait for turns, maintain calm regulation when others win, and handle challenges like unexpected outcomes. Your therapist may use these games to support your child to extend their waiting time, to gently remind them of the importance of allowing others to play, and to consider ways to manage their feelings if they get upset. Using puppets or stuffed animals to explore emotional topics allows children to practice understanding their feelings, conversing with others, and thinking through solutions to problems. Your therapist can use puppets to engage your child in conversations that they might not otherwise have if it was just a chat with a grown-up.
What happens in a play therapy session?
Books and stories allow children to think of other ways to handle challenging situations. Your child can calmly consider ways to handle emotions, develop alternative plans, or use visuals to reflect on other people’s feelings within stories. Arts and crafts tap into children’s creativity to express their feelings in non-verbal, visual ways. These activities can allow children to show their internal thoughts and feelings when they may not have the words or may not yet be ready to talk about it. Sensory play such as playdough or slime can help a child regulate their energy, focus their attention, and practice sharing toys and materials. Using messy materials allows your therapist to build a relationship with your child, to support their positive and focused participation, and to build their social skills.
What is the goal of play therapy?
Sometimes therapy looks like a lot of fun and play – and it should! This is how we support children to stay focused, share their thoughts, and practice important social and emotional skills. If you want more information about the best ways to use play to support your child’s development, check in with your NSFS therapist.
To learn more about the power of play in therapy, you can read more here:
- Play Therapy Makes a Difference – Association for Play Therapy (site-ym.com)
- Play Therapy | Psychology Today
Elysia is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who earned her master’s degree from the University of Chicago. She has more than 15 years of experience working with children and families in various mental health, social service, and educational settings. Elysia has worked as a teacher and child care director and has knowledge of those settings and the challenges children can sometimes face adjusting to structured environments.