Play Therapy Activities To Make Healing Fun
Updated May 29, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P
When you think of a therapist's office, do you picture bookshelves and coffee tables? Maybe diplomas and certificates hanging on the wall? You can imagine how intimidating, boring, or just plain unsettling that type of setting could be for a child. However, a play therapist's office is set up for activities that set the stage to make healing conducive and fun for children.
A play therapist's office has plenty of space to play with toys and other creative tools that could be beneficial in the therapeutic process. There may be a lot of soft pillows and comfy chairs to slump down in. Shelves and bins contain colorful tools and sensory items to help children open up and share what is troubling them. The best child therapists use innovative play therapy activities to help children connect their words with what is going on in their lives.
Common Types of Play Therapy Activities
Scientists and therapists have been using and studying play therapy since at least the 1930s. There are many types of play therapy, including some that are considered to be better for specific situations, while others are general and can be used for nearly any type of condition. Play therapy has been proven more effective for children. It helps a child relax and communicate easier because it engages the areas of the brain where the trauma lives: the brain stem, thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus.
Children's brains are not fully developed enough to link emotions with words. According to Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist in the early 1900s, playing gives the child a language that is indispensable to the expression of their feelings. In other words, play helps the child master their abilities and lets them feel more in control of their environment.
A sand tray is a small box filled with sand, rakes, and small toys. Children use these figures to represent people and situations in their lives to act out things that bother them. Therapists use the sand tray to help children make sense of what is going on.
This type of therapy is a nonverbal way of letting the child act out things that are going on inside their heads, such as scary thoughts and feelings or concerns. This is an excellent tool for those who have suffered from some trauma, abuse, or neglect. This type of therapy is even effective for teens and adults who have trouble expressing their feelings.
Game therapy consists of board games and physical games. Board games can be a great distraction while a therapist encourages a child to talk about problems and feelings or to teach them about self-regulation with peers and adults. During play, children can act out things that are bothering them by breaking them down into smaller and more specific parts, which gives them the relief they need to open up.
Physical games like Red Light, Green Light, and Mother May I teach children about taking turns, giving up control, self-regulation, and more. They also help the child interact with others and, in part, give them a sense of camaraderie with those around them. When the child feels more comfortable, they tend to open up more about their feelings.
Playing the role of someone else helps children let their guard down and express their feelings and emotions through the persona of someone else. It's a great way to get children to open up and get to the heart of the issue, especially for those who are naturals at drama.
The child is encouraged to act out any situation bothering them, such as being bullied at school, abuse or neglect at home, or some other traumatic incident that has been affecting their lives. They can work out their feelings on their own or with help from the therapist.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
While it may not officially be considered play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy works just as well for children as it does for adults. Play therapists typically use play therapy, such as free drawing, along with CBT to help children open up more about their thoughts and feelings. It is often easier for kids to talk about their troubles when they are drawing a silly monster or drawing the stages of a volcano as it gets ready to erupt.
Play therapists can tell a lot about how kids are feeling by letting them have some time to draw and talking with them about the meaning behind their drawings. Talking through difficult emotions can be hard for anyone, even adults, so easing a child into talking with play therapy techniques is easier and more effective for everyone.
Many kids need sensory activities, so play therapists use tools like calm-down bottles, which are bottles with liquid and glitter, much like a snow globe. The therapist coaches the child to shake up the bottle and calm down before the contents of the bottle settle.
The therapist may give the child "worry dolls" to take of their worries during the session. At the end of the session, the child returns the dolls to their boxes, so they can leave their worries at the office, rather than bringing them home. In their future appointments, the child is encouraged to bring the doll out one by one and talk about each of the worries and how they can deal with them.
Children develop their expressive language throughout their childhood. They may know they have troubling feelings, but they often can't understand them or communicate them using words until they are older and more mature. Games and other play therapy activities help them make sense of their feelings and give them an alternative means of expression. More information for parents about play therapy activities are available at BetterHelp. As a parent, it's critical to develop a strong support system, which an expert can be an integral part of. If your child is between the ages of 13-18 years old, you may also want to consider TeenCounseling, the platform BetterHelp has dedicated to teens. Read below for some reviews of TeenCounseling and BetterHelp counselors, from parents experiencing different issues.
"I've been using BetterHelp for a while now and have really enjoyed working with Rachel. I'm a mom to a young child and having the ability to message her or schedule live sessions is a game changer. She is very kind and attentive to my feelings and concerns and gives me helpful insight. I have genuinely appreciated her support and benefited greatly from spending time working with her."
"Dr. Torres is amazing with the things she is doing with my 13 year old daughter. My daughter has recently been bullied which caused her to be angry and lack of motivation skills was 0. No confidence in herself. She would not go anywhere or do anything. When my daughter spoke with Dr Torres for the first time, a few days later she picked up herself and started to go out and wanted to do things with me and by herself, she also wants to sign up for dance. I was completely amazed, everyone I spoke to was amazed. I'd also like to add that Dr. Torres is kind, patient, calm and very warm and friendly to me and my daughter. Every time I tell my daughter Dr. Torres is calling, a big smile comes on her face, it's so wonderful to see that. I know will still have a long journey to go, and I cant wait to see what happens next, I am so glad I signed my daughter up for this. Please keep up the excellent work."
Implementing fun ways your child can heal is a great way to help them. If you combine these with the help of a professional, success is imminent. Take the first step today.