A parent's guide to understanding the play therapy process
What is Play Therapy?
Child-centered Play Therapy is designed for children ages 2 ½ through 11 years old. Play therapy enables children to use play in much the same way as adults use words in counseling. Talking is an adult's natural way of communicating; play is a child's natural way of communicating. The Play Therapist provides a safe and understanding environment with a variety of special toys for children to communicate what they cannot say in words. Children may use puppets, dolls, paints, and other toys to express how they feel and what they think. When children are able to express their experiences and emotions, they are able to release the fear, anger, sadness, or frustration that influences their behaviors. Through Play Therapy children are helped to choose more mature and adaptive ways of handling external and internal stress, thereby developing more appropriate behavior and positive self-esteem.
How Do I know if my child needs Play Therapy?
Many children experience some type of difficulty in the course of growing up (at home, at school, with other children, etc.) or they behave in some way that concerns their parents or teachers. Some children need more help than others to overcome these difficulties. In general, if you and/or your child’s teacher or pediatrician is concerned about your child's adjustment or behavior, Play Therapy is the most developmentally appropriate way to help your child.
What should I tell my child about Play Therapy?
You might wish to tell your child, "You are going to be with Amy Fraites in a special play room. There will be many toys there that you may choose to play with." If your child wants to know why he/she is going to the playroom, you might say, "When things are difficult for you at school (or home, etc.), it helps to have a special time, place and person to play with."
How do I help my child get ready for Play Therapy?
Reassure your child that he/she can express whatever he/she wants to during the time in the playroom. As adults, we can't always predict what is bothering our children, so allowing them to choose issues they are ready to resolve accelerates the therapeutic process. Allow your child to wear clothing that can be soiled as the sand and paints can be messy. Please meet your child's food and bathroom needs before the session so that the therapy time can be focused on the therapeutic issues.
What do I do after the Play Therapy sessions?
Your child may or may not want to talk about what happened in the session. Allow your child to lead the discussion, and refrain from asking what your child did or what happened. Instead, listen carefully to what your child tells you, and let your child know you understand what he/she said. If your child brings a painting or art project home, allow your child to tell you about it. You might say to your child, "You really worked hard on that!" or “You used a lot of colors." or "You are proud of your project!"
Suggested Readings for Parents
- Axline, V. (1971). Dibs in Search of Self. Ballantine Books
- Kraft, A. & Landreth, G. (1998). Parents as Therapeutic Partners: Listening to Your child’s play. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson
- Landreth, G. (2002). Play Therapy: The art of the relationship, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge
- Moustakas, C. (1992). Psychotherapy with Children: The living relationship. Greeley, CO: Carron Publishers.