I hear from many parents who want their young children to come into therapy. As a therapist, I think it is so important for children to have a place where they feel safe and can express thoughts and feelings when they want to, and have a person that is consistent in their life. In my opinion, that last piece alone is invaluable and positive. When young children come into therapy, they are not able to sit in a chair as an adult would and express what is on their mind/ how they are feeling about certain things. I work with many children around the ages of 6-10, and kids that age often do not have the language to explain all that is going on for them inside.
As parents, it is easy to think they do since we hear them talk about or say adult-like comments or share an insightful thought that seems beyond their years, however when it comes to emotions and how to handle them, they are developmentally unable to put into words all they are experiencing as we as adults are able to do. In my experience working with parents, I think this can be hard for some to understand. Many parents want their 7-year-old to come in and talk about all the anxiety and anger that they are experiencing and want me to teach them coping skills to deal with them in a few sessions, and hope their kids are able to soak it in and apply these to their life right away.
I wish it were that simple. Play therapy is a process that first requires a strong rapport and relationship between client and therapist. Kids need to feel that the play therapy room is a safe place for them, and they need to feel it is their space, and that not everything they say will be disclosed to their parents. I always encourage parents to refrain from asking their kids “How did the session go? What did you do?” When children want to share they will, and often do so, when not asked. Kids talk through their play- this is how they express and show us their inner world and experiences. The therapist is able to observe their play and become a part of this inner world by joining in with them. Once a strong relationship is formed, kids are able to show (through play) what their experiences are like and how it makes them feel. As a therapist, it is my job to keep the space safe, and to help manage these feelings and thoughts when they are expressed. The relationship between client and therapist is what holds so much weight, and allows for the important work to be done.
Play therapy is a process that I see as positive and worth the while. As human beings, we like to see results fast, and can get anxious when we don’t see growth or progression. Therapy with children can definitely test this patience, as relationships and rapport can take time to build. Once these relationships are established, it can be an amazing experience for your child, and one that I feel honored to give kids who come into my office.