Play is important to a child’s development. Through play, children learn about their environment, test their skills and limitations, and learn how to engage with the world. Play therapy is the go-to treatment for children 5 years old and younger; however, it can be provided to children of all ages.

Why play therapy?

Play is how young children communicate because they are still developing their verbal language.  Oftentimes, children are better able to commute their difficulties through play than through verbal language, so play therapy is developmentally appropriate.  Through play, children communicate their emotions and express themselves, process their thoughts and experiences, and work through their struggles and difficulties in a safe environment. Play is also fun and helps the young child engage in therapy sessions.

How does play therapy work?

The therapist uses play to assist the child in identifying, addressing, and resolving problems.  It is also systematic, which means that the play therapist is looking for themes and patterns in play, along with the child’s reactions during session, and then uses this information to assist the child in coping with difficulties. A play therapy room will have many objects available for the child to use when communicating their story, their thoughts, and their emotions, such as a wooden house, toy animals, putty, puppets, and human figurines of all ages, cultures, and professions.

It is not uncommon for young children to start therapy because they might be acting out or withdrawing from others at home, childcare, or at school. A trained play therapist assists the young child in safely confronting areas of difficulty and using play to express, process, and resolve their problems.

What are the benefits of play therapy?

Play therapy is effective in helping many different types of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, such as difficulty making friends or getting along with others, anxiety or fearfulness, low self-esteem, acting out or aggressiveness, and trouble adhering to a schedule.  Therapy can also be effective in helping work through expected and unexpected life changes and stressors, such as starting school, a new sibling, divorce, death, relocation, illness or hospitalization, natural disaster, and a pandemic.

It is best to address these concerns as soon as the parent or guardian notices or finds out about them. And, if it is troublesome for the parent, guardian, or daycare worker, then it’s also difficult for the young child.  Play therapy can also be helpful in preparing the young child for a major life change or stressor, which means that the young child can learn skills in advance.

Don’t wait to get the help you need.  If you would like to take the next step towards finding a therapist for your young child, contact Ethera to get matched with a provider.

About the Author:  Robyn Tamanaha is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, writer, and podcaster. She has a private practice in Orange County, CA and is the host of the podcast Books Between Sessions.

Written by Robyn Tamanaha, LMFT

November 1, 2020