What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy is a technique used often with children between the ages of 3 and 14. In play therapy, a therapist is trained to observe and analyze themes that are presented through a child’s play. Play is the most natural form of communication and cannot be taught. All humans are born exploring and learning their environment through play and they continue to use play, in different forms, throughout their lives to gain understanding and process their surroundings. Play therapists view play as a language and toys as words for children to articulate their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and struggles. Depending on the developmental stage and needs of the child, play evolves and looks different. Play therapy can be adapted to meet the unique needs of the client.
Why Play Therapy Works
Play allows us to reach children in a developmentally appropriate manner. A child’s brain develops from the right to the left and from the bottom to the top. The right and bottom parts of the brain are emotional and impulsive, lacking logical and complex levels of thinking. This is the reason that children act out in behaviors, answer with “I don’t know” or “it just happened,” and have quite different perspectives of the world than adults.
Because of the differences in maturity of the brain, there is a communication gap between adults and children, almost as if we are speaking a completely different language. Children feel but cannot verbally express their feelings. They use behaviors to tell us what is wrong, and these behaviors are often misinterpreted by adults.
Due to a child’s brain not developing complex thinking and communication skills until age 11 to 14, it is not developmentally appropriate to talk through and rationally explain their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. With play therapy we meet the child where they are developmentally and learn to speak their natural language, play.
How Play Therapy Works
Play therapists work hard to provide children with a safe and trusting environment in which they can comfortably work through their struggles without social repercussions. Specific toys are chosen for the purpose of allowing children to express themselves and are arranged in categories that invite children to use them for metaphoric communication. By providing this controlled, trusting environment, children build a relationship with the therapist that promotes emotional healing and cognitive resolution of conflicts. Children learn to freely express their problems in a language that is natural to them and they begin to address and resolve inner struggles.
Since children cannot adequately express themselves in the adult world, the therapist takes the child’s lead. Play therapists are trained to understand the language of play and be aware of what the child is metaphorically communicating using themes. During sessions play therapists are verbally engaged with the child and use several therapeutic dialogue techniques to foster the child’s ability to change. Through this dialogue, children become more aware of their struggles and can process deep emotions in healthy ways.
The Benefits of Play Therapy
Play therapy has been shown by extensive research to be the most effective way to connect with children therapeutically and is successful in working with a variety of populations with diverse struggles and issues. In short, anyone can benefit from play therapy. Common uses of play therapy are for children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, life stressor, traumatic, and learning problems.
Play therapy helps children:
Encouragement and praise appear very similar when used, but the difference between the two can have a huge impact on your child's development. This post will discuss the difference between encouragement and praise while also explaining how increasing the use of encouragement will benefit your child and family.
Parenting is always evolving and adjusting as we learn more on child development and mental health. Researchers have found that negative or harsh parenting is detrimental, but they have also discovered that over praising and reliance on rewards can be just as detrimental. Encouragement finds the happy balance between the two and nurtures a child's mental health and development.
What is Praise?
Praise is defined in the dictionary as: "the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something." Based on this definition it is difficult to see how admiring your child and showing them how proud you are of them can be detrimental. It is very natural for humans, especially parents, to have a strong desire to express their love and approval. However, constant praise and over use of praise can cause children to rely on other's for happiness.
Praise is often given to children as an expression of how someone feels about what they did, or an evaluation, and does not address how the child feels. Praise is a judgement; although it is intended to be a positive judgement, the child is relying on the judgement and approval of others to determine whether or not they were successful. When praise is later absent, the lack of praise will be interpreted as failure by the child. They have become reliant on other's opinions and are unable to determine for themselves how they feel.
A child's interpretation and perception of situations can be very different than adults. For example if we say "good job!" every time they get an "A" on a test they may think when they get a "B" the next time that they are stupid. Another example is "you are so good at cleaning your room." If we comment on everything they do well, they may interpret that as "I'm only accepted and loved when I do these things."
Over praising teaches children to preform based on what they interpreted other's to expect rather than finding their own satisfaction. Praise can also only be given at the end when there is success or achievement. Praise does not address the effort, and this often leads to children becoming frustrated, giving up and not persisting.
What is Encouragement?
The Dictionary defines encouragement as: "to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence." Looking at this definition we can see how praise and encouragement defer. Praise is worded as a statement one gives and encouragement is worded as an action that one can do. Statements can be interrupted as insincere at times by children.
Encouragement helps children to believe in themselves and find internal happiness and motivation. By using encouragement we are able to teach children that the effort they put forth is just as, if not more, important than the final product. Encouragement can be given at any time, whereas praise can only be given when a child is successful. Children will learn to be resilient, not give up, work hard and learn from mistakes. They will become persistent and determined beings. When children learn to appreciate and value the effort they put forward to succeed, rather than just the achievement at the end, their problem solving skills will develop further and they will feel even more empowered, confident and internal pride.
When an adult gives a child encouragement we are showing them that we believe in them, accept them as they are, and that we have faith that they can do difficult things. We are not placing judgement, rather we are inspiring them to try new things and improve. The child will no longer need an external source to tell them they feel good; they will be able to take ownership of their feelings and recognize that their feelings of pride and happiness are available even when others are not present.
This concept boosts the child's self-esteem and communicates that they are capable beings with internal opinions and drive. When a child thinks higher of themselves they will begin to behave in a manner that reflects their self interpretation.
Translating Praise into Encouragement
Common phrases when using encouragement include:
"You did it!"
"You got it!"
"You figured it out!"
"You worked really hard on that!"
"You didn't give up!"
"You are proud of yourself"
Notice that encouragement often starts with "you" and the tone of voice and facial expressions should match that of the child's.
Here are some statements of praise and how you can use encouragement instead!
Parents bring their children to me for a variety of reasons and what each child is going through may be very different and unique to them; however, there is a skill that I use with every child I meet. That skill is reflective feelings. No matter the situation, every child can make progress from the use of reflective feelings. Please watch the video below for more information on reflective feelings, why I use this technique so often, and the benefits of incorporating reflective feelings into your daily life.
You can use reflective feelings to help your children to identify their emotions and therefore learn to control their emotions and their behaviors.
Reflective feelings is when you verbalize what the child is feeling to them.
You would start with "you", then the emotion, and then the validator or the reason why.
Step One: You
Step Two: Emotion being expressed
Step Three: Validator or reason why
An example of this would be:
"You are really sad right now because your brother took your teddy bear."
"You are really angry at me because you can't go to the park."
"You are really excited because grandma and grandpa are coming over later."
Sometimes you may not know the reason why your child is feeling the way that they are.
So, you could say:
"You are really angry at me right now."
"You are really sad."
"You are having a difficult time right now."
"You are really happy."
It's important that your tone and your facial expressions match what you are verbalizing to the child.
Reflective feelings helps our children to build their emotional vocabulary.
By giving children a variety of reflective responses we are helping to broaden their emotional vocabulary and therefore we are giving them a better understanding of what they're feeling. When children have a better understanding of what they are feeling they can accept it, and therefore learn to control it. Children have a difficult time understanding that emotions are on a spectrum. They have the basic understanding of happy, mad, scared, and sad, but they do not understand disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, aggravated, excited, pleased, or terrified. By using a variety of responses, we are helping to give our children this understanding, and then their body will know what is happening when they feel this, and they do not feel like they need to panic or act out in the negative behaviors that you may be seeing.
As humans we all need to feel heard, understood and validated.
That is what reflective feelings is doing for our children. It is letting them know that we are there with them; we understand what they are going through. We may not agree with their behavior, but we understand the emotion that they are feeling. It is important to remember that all emotions and feelings are valid, however, the behavior may not be. We want to meet our children with where they are in that moment, and that is what reflective feelings do. We are letting them know "we are here with you" and "we see that you are struggling", or "we see that you are happy and excited."
Reflected feelings also gives children, a different perspective of their emotions and this helps them to learn how to regulate their emotions.
Children have a difficult time verbally expressing their emotions, and they tend to communicate through behaviors. That is why we see them often acting out or becoming dysregulated; it is because they cannot verbally tell us what they are going through, so they are trying to show us. By doing reflective feelings we are helping to give them the words for what they are feeling, so in the future they will be able to develop this skill, and be more likely to verbalize it to you.
Since they are unable to verbalize their emotions right now, it is important to watch their nonverbal cues.
Some nonverbal cues that you may see may be physical changes (their face may get really red, their eyes may get really wide, they may start shaking or sweating, they may get dysregulated, jumping up and down, or get really hyper) You may also see behaviors (they may become more aggressive, anxious, clingy defiant or withdrawn). These are all examples of how your child may be feeling. When doing reflective feelings, it is important to look into your child's eyes so that you can truly understand the emotion they are going through and correctly reflect it back to them.
As adults and parents, we often tend to ask questions. If we have enough information to ask a question, then we most likely have enough information to make a statement.
Instead of saying "are you mad right now?" You would say "you are feeling angry right now."
Oftentimes as adults and parents we feel the need to change what is happening.
So, we will say things like: "It's okay." "Don't cry." "Don't worry." "It's going to be all right." This is not validating our child's feelings, and oftentimes it frustrates them because they feel as though we are minimizing what they are going through.
Now that you have a better understanding of reflective feelings, how they work, why they are so powerful and work so well for children, it is important to remember the simple formula on how to do reflective feelings:
You would start with "you", then the emotion, and then the validator or the reason why.
Step One: You
Step Two: Emotion being expressed
Step Three: Validator or reason why
Example: "you are really excited that we get to go to grandma and grandpa's."
Throughout the day, as you're at home with your children, look for different ways that you can use reflective feelings at any point of time, no matter the emotion that your child is feeling. Help to build that emotional vocabulary for your children and help you to get a better understanding of what your children are going through. If you have any questions on reflective feelings and how they may work for you and your family, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Kathryn Wright, MSW, RCSWI
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Please watch the video above for tips and advice on dealing with power struggles in children!
So often I have parents come to me and say: “I can't get my children to listen, no matter what I asked them to do they either do the opposite it's an argument, or they just refuse.” Unfortunately, this is a struggle that a lot of parents face no matter what age their child is. Luckily for you guys, I have some tips and advice on how I can help you get through these power struggles with your children!
There is a reason behind all our children's behaviors:
Even though we may not feel like these reasons are logical, it is important to remember that their feelings are always valid. With power struggles children are often feeling powerless. They are grasping for any opportunity to feel as though they are in control.
Let us take a moment to think about how often we make decisions for our children:
Depending on their age we may choose what they wear that day, what they are going to eat, what time they go to school, what time they go to bed, and the list could go on and on. As parents and it is our job to keep our children safe and to ensure that all their needs are being met. If we allow children to make these decisions for themselves, they most likely would not choose the appropriate decision. Although we are making these choices to benefit our children, it still leaves them feeling as though they do not have any control, and this leads to power struggles in the future.
Help children to feel as if they are in control by giving them choices.
Currently, when we ask a child to complete a task, they have two choices: they can either choose to comply, or they can choose to not comply. Oftentimes in power struggles, when a child is grasping for control, parents will see that they will choose to not comply. We can combat these power struggles by offering different choices.
Choice giving can be done in three different ways:
1. The first way is with tasks you know your children often fight. Many times, parents will say that they know what a power struggle is coming, or they know when their child is going to put up a fight. Whether it is homework every evening after school, or maybe at dinnertime trying to get them to eat vegetables. In these circumstances you can think ahead to other choices that you could give your child.
You may say: “Johnny, I wonder if you choose to do your math homework first, or if you choose to do your reading first.”
Or “Johnny, I wonder if you choose peas for dinner, or if you choose carrots for dinner.”
When you give two direct choices to your children, it makes it more difficult for them to say no. And when they are making the decision, they are in control.
2. The second way that you can give choices is for predictable behaviors. If you know that your child often struggles when it is time to leave playdates, or you know that they often struggle when it's time to do homework, you can set up choices ahead of time.
This may look like: “Johnny, if you choose to play nicely with your friends at the park, then you are choosing to get 30 minutes of TV time after dinner. However, if you choose to be mean to your friends at the park, then you are choosing to leave right away, and not get extra TV time after dinner.”
You are setting firm boundaries for your child but allowing them to make the decision and take the ownership of their choices. They are choosing the consequence.
3. The third way that you can give choices is in other circumstances in life that may be more negotiable. The more often you give children choices, the more often they feel in control, and the less often you enter power struggles later. You may not have a preference on if your child colors with crayons or markers, but by offering this choice you are giving them an opportunity to feel more control.
An example of this could be “Johnny, I wonder if you would choose to color with crayons, or if you choose to color with markers.”
“Johnny, I wonder if you choose for me and turn off the light, or if you choose for you to turn off the light.”
“Johnny, I wonder if you choose for me to hold the leash when we walk the dog, or if you choose for you hold the leash when we walk the dog.”
These choices may not have a large impact on day to day life, and it may not make a difference to you on who completes the task, but it is an opportunity for you to allow your child to be in control. The more often you find these opportunities, the less often you will find yourself in power struggles for other tasks that may be nonnegotiable.
When we give children choices, they are in control of the decision that they make. However, you are in control of the choices that you give, therefore you are still making sure that their needs are being met.
When giving choices is important to remember several things:
You will be faced with some resistance
You are new to this choice giving and therefore your children are made to making choices. When they make a choice, and they do not like the outcome of their decision, they will resist. They have never felt this way before and now they must take ownership of the decision that they made. This is okay. Over time, they will get used to taking ownership of their decisions and have a better understanding of the cause and effect and outcomes of choices.
When you are faced with resistance, it is important to remember that you do not need to lecture them. Allow their frustration, and their ownership of the decision that they made, to be the natural consequence.
Validate your children's feelings. Acknowledge their frustration and how they are feeling in that moment, and then remind them that they will have another opportunity to make a different choice.
Let me give you an example of how this may look:
“Johnny, if you choose to complete your homework without arguing, then you are choosing to get 30 minutes of TV time after dinner. However, if you choose to continue arguing and not complete your homework, then you are choosing to go straight to bed after dinner.” Let’s say Johnny continues to argue and does not complete his homework. When he is sent straight to bed, he realizes that he was in control of his decision and he chose this outcome. You will likely see resistance at this point.
Validate Johnny's feelings: “Johnny I understand you are very frustrated that you have to go straight to bed. However, you will have a new opportunity tomorrow to make a different choice.”
You may have to repeat this several times while consoling Johnny.
You may feel as though this is an easy chance for you to begin lecturing. “Well, you made the choice to keep arguing, you chose to go straight to bed. You knew that this was going to happen. Maybe you should have chosen something else.” When our children are at this heightened state of emotion, they are not hearing anything that we are saying. By choosing to lecture you are only making the child more frustrated at you and taking the focus away from them having control of the outcome.
Stay neutral in your tone and validate your child's feelings, while also reminding them that they will have a fresh start the next day.
Let us quickly review the three ways to give choices:
Choice giving option number one: do you choose this, or do you choose that. Again, this makes it more difficult for children to say no.
“Do you choose to have keys peas dinner, or do you choose to have carrots for dinner?”
Choice giving option number two: If you choose this then you are choosing that.
“If you choose to argue with your sister, then you are choosing to go sit in your room. However, if you choose to play the board game nicely, then you are choosing to continue family time.”
Choice giving option number three: finding tasks that you are neutral on and don't care either way what the child chooses, but you're finding a way to help fill their “control cup,” and their need for control.
“Johnny, I wonder if you choose for me to fill up the bathtub or if you choose for you to fill up the bathtub.”
“Johnny, I wonder if you choose to have a brownie for dessert, or if you choose to have a cookie for dessert.”
These three different ways of giving choices will help your child feel in control, be empowered, and reduce the need for power struggles later. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions on how you can use choice in your family, please reach out. I hope to talk to you guys soon.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen countless memes and S.O.S. posts flooding social media about homeschooling. I have also had several parents reach out to me asking for advice on what to do.
All at once parents across the country have become child-care providers, teachers, and work-from-home employees; they are feeling overwhelmed. I am here to say, "you are completely right to be overwhelmed." I'm also here to say, "I can help!"
First, always remember that you are not alone. Try to model patience, empathy, and kindness. We should always model for our children how we want them to handle situations. Change is hard for everyone, but it is important to show your children how you can be resilient and kind to yourself. It's okay to admit that it's hard and everyone gets emotional at times.
Here's some tips on how to tackle homeschooling, virtual school, e-schooling, and our new normal:
My goal is to provide parents with research based information and professional advice to allow children to grow, learn, heal and THRIVE. Ultimately, I want you to ENJOY being a parent and for you and your children to benefit from being happy and healthy.