In today’s world, the benefits of therapy and psychology are becoming more widely known. For many adults, the practice of talking to a trained professional on a regular basis has been shown to have many benefits. For children, though, discussing big feelings or concepts they don’t fully understand is tricky. That’s where play therapy comes in.
What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a method of helping a child through a difficult stage of their life. It may be about helping them develop empathy or other social skills or it may be to help them reduce anxiety and improve their self-respect. There are different ways to approach different goals, and different techniques to help different children.
The importance and benefits of play therapy
Young children lack the vocabulary and emotional intelligence to fully discuss how they’re feeling. Whether it’s because they’re bullying a sibling or going through something difficult themselves, they often need help. Play therapy gives the same benefits as regular therapy but in a child-friendly way.
Develops Empathy and Respect for Others
Some young children have a hard time putting themselves in others’ shoes. There are a number of different play therapy techniques that can help develop empathy and respect for others. From reading books and telling stories to puppet play, children first understand and act out empathy and then transfer it to their own life.
Children often feel anxiety when going through trauma or when they feel a lack of control. Play therapy can give them a feeling of control as they get to choose the direction and method of play. Other methods of play therapy can educate and shine a light on difficulties they’re facing, giving them tools and techniques to help them.
Improves Problem-Solving Skills
Some children — even the most smart and capable ones — can feel helpless without a parent to help them solve problems, but with a little bit of practice, they can soon get over these feelings. Play therapy can introduce tasks that need a little bit of thinking to solve, giving children space to safely make mistakes and learn how to deal with minor obstacles.
Develops Social Skills
Some children find making friends more difficult than others. Play therapy techniques can help boost a child’s confidence so they’re happier talking to new people and learning appropriate ways to approach their peers.
Learning to love yourself is one of the most important skills a child can learn but this is often overlooked. In many cases, behavioural problems can be traced back to someone’s feeling of self worth. For a child struggling to give themselves the respect they deserve, play therapy has proven techniques to improve the way someone sees themselves.
Learn How To Express Emotions
Emotions are a difficult landscape to navigate, even for many adults. By teaching children about different emotions, why and when they may arise, and how to appropriately respond to them, a child can feel a lot more comfortable in their skin.
Why play therapy should be used in childcare
Play therapy has traditionally been used by child therapists and psychologists, but many of the tools can be used by trained educators. In fact, many of them are already used in some respects, it’s just making sure that they’re done with purpose and intent.
Childcares offer safe and comfortable environments
One of the reasons that play therapy works so well is that it puts children at ease. So implementing it in a setting where children are already having fun is a no brainer. Play therapy also requires a level of trust between a child and adult, and with educators on hand who they already trust, there couldn’t be a better setting.
Childcares have the appropriate toys
As well as a safe setting and trusted adults, childcare centres are also stocked with the right kind of toys. Relevant books, puppets and dolls, art supplies and more. Using these toys with purpose can prove hugely beneficial.
Play therapy is important to their growth and development
There are many factors that help with a child’s growth and development, and play therapy targets several of these. Boosting a child’s confidence and self-esteem will see them try new things and interact with their peers. Improved social skills and empathy will see them make more friends.
Play therapy techniques
Play therapy has been shown to be hugely successful in helping children feel less anxious and more happy, and one of the key reasons for this is that there are multiple techniques that can be used to reach a child. What works for one child may not necessarily work for the next.
Some of the most common play therapy techniques are:
- Puppets and stuffed animals
- Toy phones
- Arts and craft
- Construction toys
- Dance and music
Storytelling is a common play therapy technique that helps children talk about big feelings without the worry that they’re revealing something they shouldn’t. The way they talk about parents in a story may give a clue to what they’re experiencing at home. Likewise, if a child is struggling with an aspect of their life, an educator can almost certainly find a book to read that talks about similar themes and topics.
Puppets and stuffed animals
For some children, empathy and understanding how others feel can be difficult. Playing with puppets, stuffed animals or dolls can help teach these lessons. When the individual is removed from the situation, it’s easier to see that the way one character treats another is unacceptable. By going through scenarios where characters hit, don’t share or otherwise mistreat a peer, a child can learn about how these may impact real life people too.
Conversations about grief and trauma can be difficult at the best of times, but for children they can be nearly impossible. Building up the trust to talk about these difficulties with an adult can be hard, but by giving a child a toy phone and creating a scenario where they’re speaking to someone like a Disney princess or a Marvel superhero can give them the safe space they need to discuss what they’re going through.
Arts and craft
Arts and craft have a two-fold way of helping with play therapy. The first is that a child may be able to draw or paint scenarios or feelings more easily than they can articulate them. The other is that it can distract a child so they’re more comfortable discussing difficult topics. Rather than an intense discussion, they can chat freely while they create.
Construction toys have lots of benefits for children — like improving fine motor skills — but they also help in play therapy. By playing alongside someone, they learn the benefits of co-operation and playing, they learn that when something goes wrong it can be rebuilt and there are plenty of problems to solve.
Dance and music
When a child is struggling, they often show signs of distress through movement. Dance is a great way to get a child up and about, often showing subtle clues about their turmoils. As well as this, physical activity can help children reduce stress and release endorphins.