What do children do in therapy? Does therapy actually work for children? Will my child benefit from therapy?
These are some of the many questions I receive from parents who are interested in finding a therapist for their child. When your child is struggling it is incredibly important to find a therapist who isn’t only kind and understanding, but who knows what to do to help your child overcome the challenges they are facing.
Cue child-centered play therapy. Also known as Floortime therapy, child-lead, or child directed therapy.
What does “child-centered” mean?
Child-centered play involves supporting and nurturing a child’s very important and natural ability to play. Not only is play enjoyable for a child, it is their language of emotion. It is often their only way of working through their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Play is essential because children do not have the same ability as adults do to talk about their feelings and experiences. Child-centered means allowing the child to lead the play. Allowing them to choose the characters and play out themes without the interruption, correction, or interference of an adult or therapist’s agenda.
What is child-centered play therapy NOT?
I want to assure you that child-centered does not mean child-inflated. It does not cause your child to be spoiled or undisciplined. It also does not cause your child to become unruly or undisciplined. It is not a “free for all” and it is not simply an hour of play time.This can be confusing to some parents because on the surface, Floortime play therapy appears to be simply play. But rest assured that a lot of healing and processing happens below the “surface” of play.
What if a child’s play is violent or inappropriate?
This is very common! Because children work out their inner world through play, the themes and behaviors of characters can appear to be dark, violent, and worrisome. I know it can be unsettling to watch your child act out aggression or violence with toys, but it is important to allow them to do so. Why? Children experience challenging and complex negative emotions, just like adults do! Because they cannot yet use language to talk about their big feelings and experiences, their feelings can be projected onto characters. When a therapist or caregiver safely allows them to act out these big feelings (under careful supervision) a child is able to work through the emotion and learn about it instead of being controlled by the emotion.
In summary, child-centered play therapy allows a child to work through and make sense of negative experiences, sensations, and emotions. It supports emotional and cognitive development while building confidence, autonomy, and resilience.