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What is Play Therapy, and How Does it Help My Child?

Play Therapy girls playing

For adults and older children, most of the best psychologists are using well-known, evidence-based practices, like cognitive behavioral therapy. These “talk therapy” methods use tried-and-true methods of changing thinking patterns to help people live a fuller, healthier life, by helping people understand their actions, reactions, and thoughts. But have you ever asked a preschooler “why” she did something? From punching the kid sitting next to her, to crying for hours after dropping a penny, your child may not know why. This could be because she lacks the language to express the feelings, doesn’t remember, or just doesn’t understand cause and effect like adults do. Fortunately, there are many other ways to help children understand and work through their problems. Play therapy services in Littleton can help your child process tough situations and manage feelings, even when they can’t “talk” about them. Keep reading to find out why!

Language is not their first language.

Just like all mammals, humans play as soon as they are able. In fact, most children start playing years before they speak, and continue to play heavily as their verbal skills grow. Adults may be familiar with learning a second language, but most of us don’t remember what it was like before we had words to structure our lives. For young children, play fills this void. Play helps a child to explore the world around him, to test limits, and to communicate without the words they haven’t learned yet. In children’s play therapy in Highlands Ranch, you may never hear your child use the word “angry.” But when The Hulk smashes everything in sight, the mommy doll throws the baby doll out the window, or a giant elephant stomps all over the city, your child is likely trying to master and understand the feeling of anger. Concrete, hands-on representations of emotions are the natural way for children to communicate.

Hush up and listen!

Lots of parents say “I just wish my child would open up to me!” Imagine if you tried to tell someone about your problems, but they would only listen if you spoke in a silly, made-up accent. Every time you tried to speak, they cut you off with an irrelevant question, or corrected you, or told you “we’re not talking about that, now!” Most people would shut down very quickly. Unfortunately, this is what children constantly live with. Their little brains are just figuring out how to make connections between concepts, and how to keep unrelated things separate, but they need practice. Everything is personal, and if they must jump through too many hoops to get their point across, they usually won’t. Play removes these limits, allowing children to communicate to their best abilities. When they realize that an adult listens to them ramble about their favorite Pokémon, their fluffy pets, or the really, cool thing they saw at the store the other day, they know that this is an adult that will listen. Once the barriers are removed, the child can feel more comfortable talking about anything and everything.

Play therapy is usually used with children 7 and younger but has shown strong promise in the research for children with learning differences, ADHD, and those on the autism spectrum. In fact, some psychologists are looking into play-based therapy for adults! If you have a young child, or even an older child who has struggled to connect with behavior-based or cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy is an important option. Contact a skilled child psychologist in Littleton today and help your child play their way to happiness!



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