Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, play has always been recognized as a fundamental element of human life. So much so, that it was enshrined by the U.N. in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Today it is used by child therapists to help kids of all abilities achieve their full potential. So, what is child play therapy?
In his 1993 book The Therapeutic Powers of Play, Charles E. Schaefer, Ph.D. wrote that by the age of 6, children are likely to have engaged in over 15,000 hours of play! He also notes that play is as critical to human happiness and well being as love and work.
In recent years therapeutic play therapy has been recognized and confirmed as a valuable and pivotal way for helping children with emotional or behavioral challenges.
It is little wonder then, that play therapy has been proven to benefit children who experience difficulties at home, at school, or in the community.
Play therapy is currently employed as a primary or complementary therapy in community centers, schools, children’s hospitals and women’s shelters. Certified play therapists work with children one-on-one, with their families and in group environments.
How Does Child Play Therapy Work?
The Association for Play Therapy describes play therapy as a way of being with children that recognizes and appreciates their own personal stage of development and searches for methods of helping the child in their own ‘language’ (which is play).
Play therapy was originally conceived in the early 1900s. Unlike regular play, the therapist helps children to recognize and resolve their own challenges and enhance their self-expression abilities during play therapy. Today, play therapy encompasses a wide array of activities which incorporate the curative benefits of play, and build on how children naturally learn about themselves and their environment.
Children who display problems at home or in school have often exhausted their own personal problem solving resources. During play therapy, the therapist can evaluate the child’s play, and determine the precise play method to best help the child manage difficult emotions and discover solutions to problems.
When a child confronts a problem in a play therapy environment, she/he tends to discover more grounded and healthy resolutions.
Play therapists employ a number of therapeutic play tools such as:
- Creative visualization
- Story telling
- Drama or role playing
- Puppets and masks
- Art, drawing, and sculpting with clay or other materials
- Music, dance and movement
Indeed today’s cutting edge play therapy facilities, like Kids At Play, offer state-of-the-art sensory gyms, and a wide range of classes focusing on enhancing balance, flexibility and coordination, boosting sensory integration and coordination, healthy eating, improving expressive language skills, and reinforcing friendship and cooperation skills.
Classes are generally held weekly and last about an hour. The size of the class is kept between 4-8 children, so that each child can receive the maximum amount of attention and care.
What Are the Benefits of Child Play Therapy?
Not only is play an inherent part of human nature, it also uplifts the spirit and illuminates our view of life; but it can positively affect how we express ourselves, our sense of self-esteem, self-knowledge and independence.
Through therapeutic play, children can alleviate stress and apathy, reconnect to others in a healthy and constructive fashion, stimulate their creative juices and boost their sense of exploration and discovery.
Research has confirmed that play therapy has an effective role in helping children overcome a myriad of social, emotional, behavioral and learning challenges, such as:
- Disruptive behaviors
- Attention deficit
- Academic development
- Lack of confidence
Play therapy has also been shown to help children assimilate and overcome intense stress related to life situations such as: divorce, moving, bereavement after death, being hospitalized due to injury or chronic illness, abuse, violence at home, and natural calamities (Empirically Based Play Interventions for Children; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).
In other words, play therapy can help children:
- Take responsibility for how they behave and conceive of more effective coping strategies
- Effectively embody and convey their emotions
- Work out fresh and innovative resolutions to problems
- Cultivate self-respect, self-esteem and appreciation of others
- Discover new social and familial competencies
- Develop compassion and appreciation for others’ thoughts, feelings and experiences
What Can Child Play Therapy Do for Your Kids?
By using the primary way that children interact with the world around them (play), play therapists enable kids to enhance their communication skills, develop a greater capacity for self-expression, become more cooperative, and learn how to solve problems. In short, child play therapy provides that safe space where children can reach their full potential.