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Most children enjoy playing in both active and quiet pursuits. Running around outdoors on a playground provides youngsters with an outlet for their boundless energy. Outdoor excursions also provide kids with regular opportunities for active play, which gives them the exercise they need for optimal health. Quiet play enhances fine motor skills and cognitive learning. Play can also be a therapy tool in a number of situations. With play therapy, a trained therapist uses specific toys and activities to help a child work through problems or issues. Play therapy offers a number of benefits, including helping a child to feel positive emotions, to develop an attachment to a trustworthy therapist, and to master verbal or nonverbal communication of feelings.

About Play Therapy

Children have a natural attraction to toys. Kids enjoy playing because it involves exploration, expression, and creativity. Through play, kids learn, practice skills, and experiment with new ways of self-expression and self-actualization. Although at the surface, play may seem like purely entertainment, children are actually experimenting with new and creative ways of thinking, problem-solving, and efficiency. Creative play provides opportunities for increasing self-esteem also.

A therapist can use play in strategic ways to help a child. For example, a nonverbal child may not be able to talk about troublesome thoughts and feelings. Through play with a therapist, however, a child may be able to show or express these feelings. A toy can convey the words a child cannot say. The way a child plays with this toy effectively becomes the expression of thoughts and feelings that the child cannot share with words. As a therapist works with a child over time, it's typical for a positive connection to develop between therapist and child. This relationship enables the therapist to guide and help the child with whatever healing needs to be done.

Play Therapy Techniques

A number of techniques and methods are utilized for play therapy. Generally, a therapist will allow play to unfold as it naturally would. While playing, both child and therapist will learn about some of the issues that could be causing problems. Once a therapist has identified problems, the professional can then work to help the child understand and resolve issues. This may involve suggestions for communication, ways to express feelings, and suggestions for changing typical responses and behaviors. A youngster might benefit from learning specific problem-solving techniques that apply to certain issues or situations. Some children need help learning positive and acceptable ways of interacting with peers, siblings, or parents. When these explorations and problem-solving strategies occur within the realm of play, the process can feel safer and more comfortable for children.

Effective Activities

A non-directive approach to play therapy involves a therapist giving a child the opportunity to choose from a variety of different toys. The child sets the tone and decides how to use the toy, and the therapist observes. If a youngster's play is destructive, the therapist will set gentle limits to guide the child toward more appropriate play. This technique assumes that the child's play will eventually involve the issues or feelings bothering the youngster. A directive approach to play therapy involves more direction from the therapist regarding the play. The professional will institute goals and discuss the issues or trauma with the child to work through feelings. For example, when playing with a doll house family, the therapist might ask the child specific questions that pertain to the child's issues. The therapist might also guide play to focus on certain issues and feelings. Children often feel safe exploring these issues in the context of play with a trusted therapist conducted in a safe environment.