How Play Therapy Techniques Can Help At Home
The Power of One-to-One
One thing I get asked often by parents and carers is what can they do to help their children at home, especially when they are presenting with difficult behaviours such as angry outbursts, low mood and sadness, and panic and anxiety. My view is that although these issues can have an outwardly behavioural response, at its heart it has an emotional base, and this emotional need is crying out to be noticed, reassured and kept safe.
So my frequent answer is to start to meet the child where they are and dedicate some one to one time with them on a regular basis. The power of this can be incredible, and in my experience it is the one thing that will shift behaviuors to a more positive place. This is what we are trying to create within play therapy, that one-to-one session every week, at the same time and in the same space, to start to provide some consistency and safety for the child to feel seen and heard.
For a child to start to realise that he or she has a parent available to him at one point in the week - and that this will be the same next week, and the week after that – will begin to soothe that loud emotional need of needing to display "difficult" behaviours to get this noticed. As the child begins to know that the parent is seeing them, hearing them, noticing them, and continuing to make space for them, this can be an extremely reassuring and relieving concept for them!
I meet parents who say this idea is a real challenge for them however, and I understand! Where do we fit time into an already jam-packed week? How do we change the regular routine to fit in this new idea? What if my child doesn’t want to engage with me? What if I can't "play"?
My advice would be to start small.
You can try just 20-30 minutes once a week
The child can choose the activity, but if the idea of this is too overwhelming then you can give them the choice of 2 activities that you are comfortable with (board game/baking/colouring/reading stories - whatever feels manageable for you both), and the child can select one
Pick a time when there will be less distractions, such as phone calls or other siblings – if a sibling is at a club perhaps, if the children have different bedtimes due to age, or if another adult is around to keep the sibling(s) occupied for half an hour
Tell the child that you are going to have some time together just the two of you, and get started!
The technique works best when the time with the child is at a regular time each week, so that they begin to predict and understand that their parent or carer is there for them. This will help the child feel very special and “kept in mind” – something that the more problematic behaviours are crying out to be– and that engagement, even if just for half an hour each week can work wonders on the child to feel noticed, reassured that their parents are keeping them in mind, and kept safe by this containment.
I once read a quote that after research it was found that "a parent is a child's favoured playmate" – and I very much agree!
If you wish to know more about this, I am able to offer Skype parent coaching sessions leading you through a more structured approach and programme over the course of a few weeks. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to know more.