Play therapy is designed for children ages 3-11, as play is the way children make sense of their world and express themselves. The benefits of play therapy for children include developing appropriate social skills, learning how to express emotion appropriately, learning age appropriate behavior, developing coping skills, acquiring effective problem solving skills, etc. And while play therapy is a specific technique used to address children’s unique needs, parental involvement is an essential piece. Not only are parents critical resources for the therapist to be able to gather background data to help him or her assess the situation, but they in part set goals and create a treatment plan together. Then, during intensive sessions, the therapist works one-on-one with his or her client, and then parents are able to reinforce the emerging skills that are being taught. Because of the amount of one-on-one time that is spent with the child, the therapist truly gets to know the child and can offer another set of eyes to help the parent establish parenting behaviors that will meet the specific needs of the child. Children all react in their own unique ways to any given situation. One parenting style does not fit all children – even in the same household. Play therapists can provide you, as the parent, with effective communication and parenting techniques that are specific to the needs of your child. Review the benefits of play therapy below to learn more about how play therapy can help you as a parent!
Be More Able to Meet Your Child’s Specific Needs
It can be challenging to meet all your child’s needs, even for the best parents. Sometimes due to a mismatch in parenting styles, a lack of information or parents dealing with their own issues, it can be hard to meet all of your child’s needs. Having your child assessed by a professional who specializes in working with children is an opportunity for you to receive feedback about how to work with your child given his or her specific needs or issues. In working with your child, the play therapist will be able to provide you with feedback about how adjust your parenting style to better fit your child. The play therapist can also provide you with specific skills or techniques to better communicate and interact with your child.
Children have many varied emotional needs, and these needs evolve over time. To explore and identify your child’s emotional needs, I have introduced Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory as a framework for understanding. Simply put, Erikson believed that there are eight stages in life, and we are all faced with the challenge to resolve the “crisis” at each stage (Wrightsman, 1994, p. 63). The skills learned, or not learned, in each stage either help or hurt the individual in the next. Described below are the first four stages of development that relate to infants and children. Read the descriptions below to help identify what stage, or what emotional needs your child might be struggling with.
Stage 1—Trust Versus Mistrust: This first stage begins in infancy and is the time when children learn about basic trust (p. 64). In thinking about your child, consider if your child seems able to trust others. Consider trust within the family and outside the family, with peers, and with authority figures. Remember, some mistrust of others is a healthy but if your child has trusting just about anyone, or has in their life had their trust violated, there may be significant work to do around the issue of trust
Stage 2—Autonomy Versus Shame & Doubt: This second stage occurs from eighteen months to three years old and is related to how children gain control of their bodies. Children’s self confidence typically grows when they are encouraged to explore their bodies, the social world and the physical world (p. 65). Children can struggle with shame, guilt, even anxiety if they were criticized about this exploration. Anxiety, guilt and shame may arise too if they became frustrated by or fearful about exploration. Children might develop low self-confidence or struggle with trusting themselves if they recognize their inability to master certain skills. Another consequence could be that your child becomes afraid to try new things, which can be very limiting and further fuel the low self-esteem, anxiety and shame.
Stage 3—Initiative Versus Guilt: Around ages three to five children learn that they can influence their family and others around them (p. 66). Children often struggle with this new found power and how to use if effectively. Family dynamics can greatly impact whether this power is used appropriately or not. Consider the family roles and how your child fits into this dynamic. Issues around self-confidence, guilt, shame, anger and even trust can become evident during this stage.
Stage 4—Industry Versus Inferiority: This stage occurs from ages five to twelve and is related to children’s exploration of the world outside their family unit. Children typically develop a sense of accomplishment during this stage, as they have experiences in school, sports, other hobbies, social events, etc. However others can also make children feel like failures at this stage. To some degree children do need to learn how to feel sure of themselves and their abilities despite failure or others criticism (p. 66). Again issues around self-confidence, guilt, shame, anger and trust can emerge.
Be More Effective as a Parent
Once you have the specific skill set and style to be more able to meet your child’s needs, you will find yourself more effective as a parent. The therapist might teach you how to be more structured or less structured, how to encourage creativity and exploration and how to create an environment for your child where they have an appropriate amount of responsibility. You might also learn how to increase your child’s options and experiences with both their limitations and strengths in mind, how to maintain appropriate roles in the family and how to set healthy boundaries with your child and other family members. As you, and your child, adjust to this new way of interacting, the play therapist can also serve as a guide, offering you feedback about how you are doing. Any new way of being usually takes time getting used to, so expect needing this time for yourself and for your child. Having the therapist there to support you through this process this another benefit of play therapy.
Feel More Confident as a Parent
After you learn a new skill set to use with your child, and being to use it effectively, you will feel more confident as a parent. Feeling more confident about your parenting skills will likely allow you to have more positive feelings about being a parent. While you will still feel stressed, overwhelmed, confused, angry, etc. at times, you will hopefully feel more of the positive emotions that can come with being a parent. You will also spend less time second guessing yourself or feeling poorly about your parenting. Remember, no parent is perfect and every parent struggles with their role at times.
Having an expert guide you can take the pressure off. You don’t have face the difficulties of parenting alone. Sometimes simply having the support of another adult makes maintaining change easier and can relieve some of the guilt you may have been struggling with over your parenting. Also, when you are exasperated the therapist can serve as another person who can take over and give you a needed and deserved break. Remember, we all have our limits. All of these new skills and changes can help you reprioritize how you spend your time as well, and can help you put yourself back in the center of your own world—a healthy place anyone to be. In addition, as your confidence in your parenting abilities increases, it is likely you will experience a general boost of confidence.
Conclusion…Play therapy can help you as the parent to be more able to meet your child’s specific needs, be more effective as a parent and feel more confident as a parent. Play therapy can serve as a supportive and helpful environment for you to learn more suitable skills to interact and communicate with your child. Furthermore seeing the progress from your hard work is rewarding and encouraging.