How Play Can Benefit your Child’s Mental Health

How Play Can Benefit your Child’s Mental Health

By: Vanessa Gonzalez


“Do you want to play?” This is one of the first things children will ask, whether to a parent, adult, or child. If you’ve been around a child, you know that children crave spending individual with someone they care about to play with them, especially parents. However, can playtime be used as something more than just quality?


The answer is yes! Play therapy is a form of therapy used to explore a child’s thoughts and emotions and effectively communicate them. Through play, the child can also learn new coping skills to efficiently deal with negative in more adaptive ways and independently make decisions, even at a young age.


While it may just seem like a child is merely playing with toys, it’s much more than that.


What is Play Therapy?


Play therapy is typically used for children ages 3-11 years old. Trained therapists can use this technique to work with children to explore their lives, past trauma, and analyze any unresolved thoughts or emotions the child may be experiencing. This therapy usually takes place in a comfortable, safe play area, and very few rules are set.


This creates a safe space for free expression In which the therapist can freely observe the child and how they engage in play. Sessions may last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and can be conducted in an individual or group setting. It bridges a communication gap between adult and child interactively, allows for the therapist to explore the inner dimensions of the child’s experience.


Children learn to understand the world and their place by utilizing play by freely acting out their feelings and emotions. They may use toys as symbols, and the therapist can explore greater meaning.


According to the Association for Play Therapy, this type of therapy can be helpful for children who have experienced or are currently experiencing an extremely stressful event such as abuse, trauma, family difficulties, and illness or death of a loved one. It can also be helpful for children with behavioral issues such as anger or aggression, developmental or learning disabilities, social issues, anxiety, or behavioral disorders.


Is Play Therapy Effective?


Research has shown that play therapy is a well-established treatment modality and is highly effective for most children. According to Play Therapy International, about 71% percent of children who underwent play therapy experienced a positive change in behavior and outlook on the future.


The more time is spent working with the child, the more the child will grow and open up during each session.


Some Benefits of Play Therapy May Be:


  • Learning and expressing empathy
  • Regulating oneself when feeling anxiety
  • Assume responsibility when rules are not followed
  • Develop healthy coping skills when emotionally dysregulated
  • Learn to recognize and express emotions
  • Learn strong social skills
  • Positive relationship with family

There is typically a communication gap between children and adults. Most children don’t have the language skills or awareness yet to understand their emotions fully. By engaging in play, the therapist can get down on the child’s level and engage with them in the way they know how to express themselves, rather than how adults expect to communicate themselves. By engaging in play, children aren’t pressured to answer questions specifically. Instead, they open up in their own time, on their terms, in their way of effectively communicating.


After seeing the child engage in the play, the therapist may ask the adults around the child, such as parents, guardians, and teachers, to better understand the child outside of playtime. Therapists will use these interviews and observations as a guide to creating therapeutic goals and treatment plans to meet the child’s needs.


By observing the child’s play behavior from session to session, the therapist can see how the child is adapting can change goals and treatment as needed throughout the process. Parents and family members may be brought into play therapy sessions to improve family relationships.


How is a session conducted?


As mentioned earlier, a session can be anywhere from 30-45 minutes, is typically held once a week, and can be conducted in an individual or in a group setting depending on the child’s needs. There are two types of approaches when working with the child: directive and nondirective.


In a directive approach, the session is structured, and the therapist will lead the session by playing a chosen game with the child or utilizing a specific toy with plans to reach a particular goal for that session. Or the nondirective approach allows the child to engage in play with hardly any direction or interruptions freely.


Here are some ways In which the therapist may engage with the child:


  • Role-playing
  • Stuffed animals or puppets
  • Dolls or action figures
  • Arts and crafts
  • Telling stories
  • Blocks or Legos
  • Dance and music

While this type of therapy is typically sued for children, it can also be used for teens or adults who have difficulty expressing themselves. In addition, play therapy can help anyone uncover some emotions or past trauma that may be hard to deal with head-on in traditional talk therapy.


Essentially, play can help a child have positive experiences e and can help children work through difficult times. A specially trained therapist in play therapy can help your child share what’s troubling them in a way they know how and in their own language – through play!


Call us for play therapy in Jupiter and child therapy in Palm Beach County.

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