Parents and caregivers often find themselves worrying about their children’s sudden shifts in moods or behaviour. It’s completely natural. Moreover, in the quest to find reasons behind their children’s sadness, rebellion or disruptive behaviour, parents may try second-guessing and feel frustrated when they see no clear answers. Sounds familiar? Well, You are not alone. Your concern about your child’s development is valid, and them experiencing problems, whether at school or home, can be difficult for everyone. However, it’s helpful to remember that children do not process their experiences as adults do. There could be myriad reasons that a child may experience cognitive, behavioural or emotional challenges. For instance, if they are witnessing stressful events like bullying, abandonment, trauma, sexual abuse, violence, serious illness, or a crisis in the family. It could also be related to undiagnosed mental health/behavioural disorders like grief, anger, depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Finally, children may struggle due to social and academic impairments, learning disabilities, and conduct disorders.
This is where play therapy can help children with emotional or social deficits by enabling them to express their feelings through play. We can all agree that children make sense of their world through play, shaping aspects of their development and learning.
Here’s what you need to know about play therapy. Read on to learn more.
1) What is Play Therapy?
Young children use play to rehearse, experiment, learn, and mix fantasy with reality. Play is not only integral to childhood development. It’s also the most natural way a child uses to communicate. Using play as a medium in a therapeutic environment allows the child to express themselves using various tools, including books, arts and crafts, messy play, and sand trays. Furthermore, play therapy can also consist of role play, where children may play out difficult experiences using soft toys, puppets or small figures. Play therapy takes place in a safe and supportive environment where experienced therapists help children to process, integrate, and heal from their experiences.
2) What is the Importance of a Therapeutic Relationship?
A therapeutic relationship creates a safe space where the child is not alone with their experiences. According to scholars (Riggs 2006, Fishbein 2007), the brain’s organization, structure and development are affected by relationships and experiences. Moreover, research suggests that a child’s cerebral pathways that link higher and lower brain structures are strengthened when a child is helped with connecting experiences and feelings. Nurturing a strong emotional vocabulary promotes skills that help children manage big/strong emotions and stress in life. The therapeutic relationship is built on connection, warmth, acceptance and presence. Within this space, the child can fully be themselves and embrace new possibilities. (Hariri 2000, Pennebaker 1993, Fossati 2003). Play therapy allows such an environment and opportunities for this kind of learning. It facilitates a safe environment where children can explore parts of their identity, helping them to express and make positive changes in their lives.
It can be difficult as a parent to see your child in distress. The vital thing to remember is that help is available, and there is no shame in seeking a solution from professional therapists. If you want to learn more, the Institute of Child Psychology is here to help you with concrete, research-backed strategies that can be implemented immediately at home or in the classroom.