Play Therapy: A Change Agent for Kids

Each human being has an internal desire to obtain wellness. This is particularly true for children, who are developing a self-concept and communicating their state of well-being through their behaviors every day. When children “act out” behaviorally, their actions are often the catalyst that brings children and parents into my therapy office. It is important for me to help parents understand all behavior is purposeful. Therefore, even the behaviors we deem as inappropriate are an attempt by a child to fulfill an emotional or developmental need.

Parents sometimes wonder why children do not ask for what they need directly. Like some adults, children frequently are not aware of what they need nor do they have the linguistic skills  to articulate their thoughts, emotions, and desires. This is why play is so very useful with children. Play is the language of children. Children play out their own experiences in the same way adults talk about experiences. Play is a child’s natural way of communicating. In play therapy children are provided with selected toys to enable them to say with toys what they are unable to say with words. Some of the items utilized in play therapy include:  puppets, music, art, storytelling, sand tray activities, games, dolls, and projective tests.

The play therapist allows the child to direct her or his own process by allowing the child to lead content, pace, and outcome of play within reasonable parameters.  The child gains a sense of positive self-control over the play-world and the real-world.  What is abstract in play becomes concrete in life. Play therapy is the agent for merging right-brain feelings, pictures, and metaphors with left-brain thinking and language skills.

During the therapeutic process, the play therapist utilizes techniques to enable the child to become aware of the self. Reflection of feeling gives the child words for what she or he experiences, and the child feels understood and validated. While interacting with the therapist, the child begins to understand his or her feelings and behaviors and how he or she can change. When children become aware of their processes, they begin to modify behaviors naturally. There is no longer a reason for children to “act out” because they have a stronger sense of self-worth and are able to identify and express emotions appropriately.

About the Author:

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer has spent over 12 years in private practice working with individuals, couples, and parents who are faced with kid-drama, mamma-drama, and family-drama, and she claims that although some stories make a grown woman cry, she loves it.
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