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What is Play Therapy?

Heraclitus (a pre-Socratic philosopher) famously said, “The only constant in life is change”. However, the parents among us know that there’s nothing more unsettling and nerving for our little treasures than change! They thrive on routine, structure, and predictability but the last couple of years have been anything but that with months off school, playgrounds (surely counts as an ‘essential service’ for kids), parks and playgrounds beyond reach and when school resumed, the uncertainty of schedules - a day here and two days there! It was hard enough for parents to cope with these ever-changing guidelines, let alone children.

Even before the pandemic, mental health concerns among children and adolescents has been on the rise. One in Six children experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or behavioural disorders and over 75% of the children experiencing these aren’t getting the help they need.

Our goal as parents is to raise happy and secure children and support them during these periods of change and uncertainty but we often don’t know where to start.

Children and Mental Health

Navigating children’s emotions can be a minefield even for the most intuitive and connected parents among us who are more inclined to put it down to attention seeking or malingering, not deliberately but more for fear and denial of our children enduring anything more serious.

When to seek help It is a known fact that children do not develop their prefrontal cortex or as Daniel Siegal in 'The Whole Brain Child' referred to it as the ‘upstairs brain’ till early adulthood, which somewhat explains children’s inability to regulate emotions and fears further compounding anxiety.

However here are a few behaviours to pay attention to and seek help:

1. Being clingy

2. Inability to concentrate

3. Anxiety and inability to sleep, waking with bad dreams often

4. Significant change in food habits and appetite

5. Frequent anger and outbursts

When in doubt and in the first instance, speak to your GP or family doctor who might recommend working with a counsellor. This typically involves detailed interviews with parents and the child and often dependent on the child’s ability to communicate.

What is Play Therapy?

For any early stages of behavioural changes and/or for younger children with nebulous communication skills, Play Therapy could be an alternate gentler approach.

Play therapy which may look like ordinary play time with a professional provides a safe environment for the child to unpack their concerns and worries in a play-based environment on a 1:1 basis with the therapist.

Play therapy often includes:

· Use of figurines

· creative visualisation

· storytelling and reading

· may include some sensory play and/or dance and movement (or link to existing client previous blog)

The way a child uses the toys, interacts with the figurines, communicates with the therapist, interacts with the parents and deals with separation provides the therapist insights into the source of the child’s problems or unresolved trauma, often in the unconscious realm. Through play, the child is empowered to develop coping mechanisms and redirect inappropriate behaviours.

How does Play Therapy work?

What age?

Play therapy is one of the more effective and insightful options for kids aged between 3 and 6 where they are still developing their ability to express themselves with language but is used right up to the adolescent stage.

1:1 trusted relationship between professional and child:

While the play therapist will conduct a preliminary interview with parents and/or caregivers, the sessions are run predominantly on a 1:1 basis which provides a safe environment for the child to build a trusted relationship with the therapist. In rare instances, group play therapy may be recommended.

Length of sessions and frequency:

Sessions are usually conducted weekly, lasting 30 to 60 minutes and number of sessions vary depending on how the child responds to therapy. In our experience, play therapy was conducted over a 12-week period on a weekly basis.

If you notice any changes in your child’s behaviour or any warning signs (listed above), or if you are aware of any potential triggers to your child’s anxiety such as change in family circumstances, change of school, loss of a loved one or pet, separation of friends, divorce between parents, Play Therapy may provide a safe course to manage your child’s anxiety and in more extreme cases, may complement other forms of therapy and/or medication. As Schiller said, “Man is never so authentically himself than when at play.”

We hope you enjoyed this blog. Stay tuned next week for our next edition. As always, if you would like to book a trial class for Dadi or Otto2, please get in touch.

You may also be interested in reading How Better Sleep Helps Improve Your Child’s Learning.

Developed for Dadi Mandarin and written by WOI.


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