The Importance of Playing During Child Therapy

Childhood is anything but a relaxing, carefree ride. While stuffed with laughs, smiles and potent memories, it can also be chock-full of stressful and often saddening events. While you may be able to cope with especially stressful or adverse times as a parent, your child might not be able to express itself appropriately. Depending on their age and developmental stage, it’s possible your child might not have established a strong emotional vocabulary or ability to self-regulate, yet.

ELEOS Psychology Center is here to help in any stage of life. Children are some of our favorite people to see come through our doors. With a trusting relationship and therapy founded in empathy and compassion, children can find their emotional footing. One of the most effective ways to help children is through playing with them. Playing is a natural form of creativity, and while it may seem hard to believe, the benefits of therapeutic playing are invaluable and help in several developmental processes. Play and child psychology truly go hand in hand.

Why Children Need to Play and What They Learn

Seeing a floor covered in art supplies, puzzles, blocks and action figures could make a parent start to stress, but the fact is that this is a good sign for your child. Children play for the enjoyment of the act itself. There’s no gratifying prize to come once playtime is over, so the purpose of play is enjoying it in the moment. You might even notice that your child is totally unreachable as they play. This is because playing, whether fantasy or make-believe, requires all of a child’s attention. They become immersed in creating little plots and attributing personalities to each toy within reach. But what does this all mean?

Playing, for your child, is a very natural activity and is a comfortable way for them to communicate. Through their toys, they create personality traits, dilemmas, solutions and dialogue. They’re free to explore thousands of scenarios and come to just as many resolutions. While it could seem like incomprehensible murmurs to you, your child’s toys have come to life and a new world has unfolded if for only a brief amount of time. In fact, children who are free to play without pressure and interference are more autonomous—they can better direct the course of their own actions once playtime is over.

Learning this self-regulation is crucial when it comes to how children behave in real-life events. However, it’s still important for parents to take an active role in playing with their children when they invite you to join them. This mutual playing will help develop social skills as playtime becomes a conversation. By collaborating through playtime (What hat should you wear for tea time? Which action figure can defeat the notorious bad guy?), your child is learning how to compromise with someone, talk with someone, and work through problems.

Play affects cognitive, affective and personality processes. This means that a child’s playtime helps shape their emotions, personality traits and capacity for language. They will learn how to tell a story, use symbolism, express emotions, experience joy, and communicate effectively. Imaginative play even helps children become aware that one’s thoughts may differ from another’s. A child may start to give negative emotions to one toy while giving positive ones to another, or they may experience varying imagined personalities when starting to play with other children. All of these natural processes honed through play can be used in effective child therapy.

How Play Completes Child Therapy

Child psychologists use play as a way to recreate scenarios to work through or to better facilitate discussion. Since children spend much of their time communicating while they play, it is a way for children to feel comfortable and speak freely. Instead of sitting quietly or feeling inhibited from speaking, letting them play could encourage them to let their guard down. Toys, games and art supplies all help create a playful environment that feels safe and comfortable. While the children see the toys or paintbrushes as fun activities, experienced therapists use them as crucial tools.

Playtime and make-believe are great ways to teach a child therapeutic concepts in a way they can relate to, understand and enjoy. Engaging a child where they feel comfortable is important to teaching the skills necessary for healthy emotional development that will help them throughout life. Instead of talking through events or stressful times (which a child can quickly become bored or disconnected with), playing them out could be the key to getting them to interact.

Just as a child can attribute emotions to his action figures, so too can children “play out” their own thoughts, feelings and emotions through the toys provided at therapy. Therapists take into account a child’s emotional or cognitive development, and they usually let children guide them toward the source of their stress, frustrations or other disturbances instead of trying to force the issue. Through play, children can act out real-life scenarios and therapists can guide them toward resolution while helping teach them how to let go of negative thoughts or feelings. Playing through scenarios can also help a child develop necessary coping skills.

Parents are often invited to come join the therapy session. Learning how to play in a way to help children work through their frustration or develop their skills is critical to continuing helping them at home. As your child learns self-control and expands their emotional vocabulary, play therapy may be a tool to implement any time they are feeling down, angry or stressed—not just when you’re in a therapist’s office.

Playtime Helps with More than Stress

While teaching children how to cope with stressful or disturbing events—such as family violence, death of a loved one, chronic illness, divorce, etc.—is one incredible benefit of play, other assets include developing cognitive and personality processes. Through unbridled exploration during playtime, children are encouraged to make their own decisions and learn about themselves. This autonomy will serve them well in the years beyond childhood.

Children could also benefit from therapy if they are showing signs of poor academic performance, withdrawal from relationships, refusal to speak or persistent aggressive behavior.

If you live in or around Minneapolis, our child therapists can help you and your child through the power of play today. To ask questions or find out if therapy is right for you and your child at this time, give us a call or send a message. Play and empathy are ready at ELEOS when you are.