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Play Therapy: Purposeful Fun for Your Child

Nov 03rd, 2021 | by Kate Orlando

Kate Orlando

November 03rd, 2021

Pediatric therapy in all forms relies heavily on the use of something called Play Therapy. In your child’s session, the toys chosen and preferred imagination style means a lot more than you might think! In this moment, your child is communicating to you their perception of themselves in the world. Below is some information on play therapy and what to look out for the next time you are joining your child at a therapy session. 

What is Play Therapy?

Play Therapy is a tool therapists utilize to optimize the power of play and allow our patients to express their preferred communication style, explore their emotions, address unresolved trauma, and reach developmental milestones. Play therapy is an important part of practice for psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioral therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, social workers, and school counselors.

Why Play Therapy?

Chances are that your child communicates in a very different way than you might prefer to communicate. Depending on their stage of development and age, communication barriers become a frustrating situation for your child since they are unable to express the emotion they are feeling to you. Parents may also find it difficult to interpret a child’s verbal or nonverbal cues. Play Therapy forms the bridge needed for your child to positively and effectively communicate with you. 

With play, you can meet your child where they’re at and connect with them on their level.

Child Play Therapy: When is it Used?

Typically, play therapy is utilized for children experiencing chronic illness, developmental delay, aggressive or angry behavior, traumatic events, family disputes, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, and eating or toileting disorders. 

Play Therapy Techniques & Examples

There are typically two different types of play therapy for kids, the directive approach and the nondirective approach

The directive approach is when the therapist takes lead of the session and presents your child with specific toys and games to fulfill a certain goal. Typically, a therapist will utilize arts and crafts, water play, action figures or dolls, storytelling, role playing, music, and most other toys. For example, a therapist might choose a game that will encourage your child to use problem-solving or social skills and observe how they work through the situation. 

The nondirective approach, or child-centered play therapy, is when your child takes the lead and chooses which games or toys they will like to play with. This type of session does not include instructions or interruptions from the therapist, rather the therapist is observing how your child chooses to participate. 

What Are the Benefits of Play Therapy?

Play therapy gives your child a means to communicate effectively with you and their therapist. Together, they will be able to understand one another and begin to form a bond and trust. From here, the possibilities of growth are endless. Your child will begin to take responsibility for behaviors, develop coping strategies, self-respect, decreased anxiety and empathy for themselves and others.  

Why is Play Important?

Play is an essential part of child growth and development. It is one of the central ways in which children learn valuable life skills. Through play, children learn all about how to socialize with others, express their creativity and imagination, and develop their language and cognitive skills.

The benefits of playing are wide-ranging. Continued play can make a positive difference in lives physically, socially and emotionally.

Whether it’s used as a teaching mechanism in child’s play therapy, initiated by parents at home or teachers at school, play should be a regular part of your child’s everyday life! Listed below are a few of the benefits of play therapy and why play is essential for all children.

Play should be a regular part of your child’s everyday life!

Physical Benefits of Play

Playing is one of the best ways to encourage children to get active outdoors. This encourages healthy physical development in all children. However, active kid’s play and physical therapy is particularly beneficial to children suffering from muscular or joint illnesses.

Playing outdoor games and activities teaches children how to actively use their bodies and build their energy. The constant movement required in popular kid games like hopscotch, jumping rope, handball, or trampolining can lead to improvements in muscular strength and joint flexibility.

Trampolining, in particular, is very effective in improving children’s motor skills and development as it requires the control of various muscles and limbs at the same time. Unlike other activities, jumping on a trampoline has low impact on joints. This means that kids can jump and bounce as high as they want without putting as much pressure on their joints.

Social Benefits of Play

Making friends can often be a challenge for kids. Playgroups are a great opportunity to address these issues and help kids learn and develop social skills. This is one of the most important aspects of child growth and development.

Group play teaches children how to work in groups, get along with others, and solve conflicts in a fun, stress-free environment. For example, during playtime, children must learn to communicate with each other about rules of the game, share materials fairly, and take turns in a cooperative manner. 

In turn, they can learn to appreciate the feelings of their peers and understand different points of view, which can help them to develop friendships in everyday situations. Group play is one of the best ways to prepare children at an early age for a lifetime of social interaction.

Emotional Benefits of Play

There are many positive emotional benefits of play for kids as well! As kids learn to overcome social obstacles or improve their physical skills through play, it can also have a great impact on their confidence and self-esteem. Child’s play gives kids the opportunity to enjoy personal satisfaction and accomplishment, whether it’s by conquering the monkey bars, completing a puzzle, learning new jumping tricks on the trampoline, or making a new friend during play time. 

Play can ultimately help children gain a sense of belonging and make them feel more positive about themselves and their capabilities.

Time to PLAY! Find Our Favorite Therapist-Approved Toys and Activities in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author 

Kate Orlando, Physical Therapist, NAPA Los Angeles. Kate can’t seem to stay away from the beach as she’s moved East Coast to West Coast to join the NAPA team. When she’s not going on runs down the coastline, you’ll most likely find her watching football or basketball with her roommates. 

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we believe in creating individualized programs that address every child’s specific needs across a range of different therapies, including play therapy sessions. Every child is unique, which means implementing unique therapy programs is the only way to help them truly reach their full potential. Contact us today to discover how NAPA can help your child or loved one.

TAGS: Blogs, OT, PT, SLP
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