Exploring The Benefits Of Play Therapy For Children

Disclaimer: The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

When you were a child, you may remember that one of your favorite things to do was to play—whether with trains, dolls, cars, or puzzles. Creative play can be crucial to a child’s development, as this is what helps them learn problem-solving, social skills, and emotional regulation. However, playing isn’t only an activity; it’s also an approach utilized by therapists to help children through any issues they may be facing. Keep reading to learn more about play therapy and explore the different benefits it can bring to a child’s life. 

What Is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a therapeutic approach that seeks to help children express and process their thoughts and feelings with a qualified practitioner. Just as adults go to therapy to work through mental and emotional concerns, kids can participate in play therapy to get support with behavioral, emotional, and mental health concerns. 

When children attend play therapy, they usually meet in a room that has lots of different toys to choose from. They can pick to play however they’d like (as long as it doesn’t cause harm to oneself or others) while the therapist observes and asks questions. Over time, the therapist can begin to interpret and give meaning to how the child is playing, allowing them to guide the child toward healing or repair in certain problem areas.   

Types Of Play Therapy

There are several different types of play therapy, each of which has its own specific goals. Some of the most common kinds include: 

  • Sand tray: Sand tray therapy involves having the child play with sand, small tools, and figures during sessions. The child isn’t required to make eye contact with their therapist, which can help them be more open about how they’re feeling. You can learn more about this technique at https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/heal-your-family-with-sand-tray-therapy/.
  • Child-centered: Child-centered play therapy is an approach created for kids aged 3-10 facing social, emotional, or behavioral concerns. With this technique, children can choose between five different types of toys to play with, including family/nurturing toys, scary toys, aggressive toys, expressive toys, and pretend/fantasy toys. The child is free to express themselves however they wish while the therapist makes observations. 
  • Cognitive behavioral: Cognitive behavioral play therapy was designed to help children aged 2.5-8 years old take control in overcoming the concerns they’re facing. It works by teaching the child how to identify and change their irrational thoughts and pick healthier, more productive ones. All of this is done while the child plays with developmentally appropriate toys. 
  • Group: In group play therapy, a small group of 3-4 kids plays together, helping them learn important social and emotional skills like empathy, understanding, and acceptance. They also learn new coping skills and how to regulate their emotions. This approach is often effective for children struggling with relationships with their peers or siblings. 

The Benefits Of Play Therapy For Children

Children may experience numerous benefits from participating in play therapy. Not only can they benefit short-term, but the skills learned in therapy can continue to follow them for the rest of their lives, enhancing outcomes at school, work, and in their relationships. Some of these benefits include the following: 

  • Encourages creativity and self-expression: Kids can choose to play however they’d like in play therapy, giving them the chance to be creative and express themselves. This can help the therapist get to know and understand the child, as well as help the child be more open about their thoughts and feelings. 
  • Relieves boredom: Kids who sit in a room and speak with a therapist without anything else to do may get easily bored, causing them to disengage from the therapeutic process. Contrastingly, children who are taken to play therapy may not even realize that they’re in therapy because they’re so consumed by the toys in front of them. Play therapy can keep kids mentally and physically stimulated during sessions, leading to more positive outcomes. 
  • Improves problem-solving skills: Play therapy concentrates on solving a child’s problems, whether behavioral, emotional, social, or mental, by engaging with different types of toys. This process can be therapeutic in and of itself because kids are given the freedom to play how they wish. Instead of having to voice their issues out loud, they can act them out using the toys, thereby allowing them to solve personal problems externally and without being judged. 
  • Teaches emotional regulation: Being able to play with toys while thinking about challenging— and even traumatic— situations can help kids make more sense of experiences that they are having difficulty describing and understanding. Kids can process their doubts, worries, and fears in a safe, controlled environment, allowing them to alleviate their stress and work through their emotions while staying calm and collected.
  • Facilitates healing: Car accidents, domestic violence, and unexpected deaths are just some of the issues children may be exposed to at a young age. All of these experiences can create trauma and tend to be difficult to talk about. Play therapy helps kids express how they’re feeling by using toys like puppets to act out situations. This can allow them to process their thoughts and feelings with the therapist and find healing without having to voice their struggles out loud. 
  • Raises self-esteem: Play therapy can be a powerful tool in enhancing a child’s self-esteem, as children learn how to work through tough emotions and solve difficult problems.  When kids overcome something that was once overwhelming to them, it can fill them with a sense of pride and accomplishment, boosting their levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. This can motivate them to go after their goals with greater self-assurance and less fearfulness. 

Life is full of stressors, tragedies, and trauma and, unfortunately, children are not immune to any of them. In fact, because kids are still growing and developing, the impact of life’s stressors can put them at an even higher risk of long-lasting mental, emotional, and behavioral health concerns. In many cases, kids may be so young that they haven’t yet developed the language needed to express their thoughts and feelings. Thus, play therapy can be an effective tool for bringing healing and recovery, allowing children to describe the indescribable and overcome the unthinkable.