There is an ever-emerging amount of evidence that demonstrates that play is the default language of children. It is how they communicate, process, rationalise, problem solve and make sense of their internal worlds.
As an adult, we may talk to a friend, family member or perhaps a counsellor or psychologist, however a child does not usually have the vocabulary and language skills to fully express their experience, which is why play is their modality of expression.
It is from this knowledge that play therapy seeks to observe and guide a child’s play in a way that is therapeutically healing.
Play therapy as therapeutic intervention has a significant evidence base for children experiencing a myriad of social, emotional, behavioural or life difficulties. This blog will explore some of the themes that are observed in play therapy, but this blog in no means serves as a replacement to seeking therapeutic support, should your child need it.
Themes within play therapy are the overarching patterns of play that are repetitive or significant in intensity, that help us to make meaning and understand the internal world of the child. Themes will shift and change over the time a child attends play therapy sessions, which is reflective of them processing and making sense of their experiences. This is contrasted with the childs’ development and the usual social and emotional milestones that would naturally be present and arise in play.
Themes usually include:
Power + Agression Themes
Play might include: good vs bad, dying/death or power overcoming weakness in some way
Play might include nurturing others or self, togetherness or separation or family relationships
Control or Safety Themes:
Play might include elements of danger, the need to rescue, escap or protect, burying, cleaning, sorting, fixing, controlling or containing
Exploratory or Mastery Themes:
Play might include general positive or negative interactions, relationship building or expression of boredom
Play that demonstrates sexual activities or curiosity
The child leads this play process which allows them to unconsciously play out the experiences impacting them and express difficult thoughts and worries.
Play therapy serves children with a space to see their experiences from a new perspective, to ask for help or practice new ways of being or interacting with others.
As adults and parents we often fall into the tendency to lead a child’s play, perhaps by directing the play completely or simply by not being truly engaged and present.
We can foster some of the therapeutic ideas of play therapy within our homes and own children’s play by providing them with a space or spaces where play is prioritised – both in the physical sense of a play space but also by giving them our time where we are wholeheartedly present. In this time and space we can allow them to lead, direct and control the play. Gifting our children with a loving space to process and make sense of their worlds in the best way they know how.