One Card Game - Many Feelings!
For a long time I was reluctant to include a card game in my Play Therapy kit, I was concerned that it would not promote deep or meaningful play in the sessions and would only keep play at quite a “surface level”. How wrong I was!
This year I decided to include the card game Uno and I have been surprised at the effectiveness of such a small addition to the room. As a Play Therapist I allow the children to use the game as they wish, and with that create their own rules and not play prescriptively, giving them the freedom to express themselves and their needs as they see fit.
Familiarity and Safety
One of the main reasons I decided to include the game is because I am working with traumatised children, and I am aware that it can be very scary and daunting to be expected to start up a one-to-one relationship with a stranger and feel comfortable in the space. Having something familiar to a child can help promote a feeling of safety and security, and can be a good place for them to start tentatively approaching this idea of creating a new therapeutic relationship and learning to trust.
Social Play and Exploring Bonds
As mentioned one great feature of having Uno in the room is that it allows children to have an interaction with the Therapist that feels familiar and safe, and from there children can start to explore creating bonds and attachment to the Therapist. Children can explore social play and such tactics as taking-turns, interacting and eye contact, creating and initiating conversation, and demonstrating proactive behaviours such as playfulness, kindness and fairness.
I have found that this game can be a great vehicle for children to release some anger in a safe way, particularly if this anger is being projected onto the Therapist as part of the child’s process. The competitive element to playing a card game can allow children to express anger and frustration through the medium of the cards instead. A child wanting to be aggressive towards the Play Therapist is not usually safe, however expressing annoyance and frustration at the cards played or the hands dealt is a safe and acceptable way to externalise some of the child’s projected anger.
Control and Power
This is a big one! I often see Uno used by children to explore feelings of control and power, and what that experience might be like. This is often when a child is used to feeling the opposite, so they may be used to feeling out of control and powerless. Giving these children the opportunity to experience feelings of being in control and feeling they have some power over their circumstances (even if “just” in a game) can be so beneficial to children looking to regain some sort of balance and rebuild safety and trust in their relationships.
Anxiety and Regulation
I have found my Uno cards to be a really helpful way for children to regulate some of their anxiety or overwhelming feelings – particularly if we have just spent time playing deeply or symbolically and “big” feelings have emerged. Children will then often gravitate towards this sort of regulating activity to provide some calming time and ease the transition back to class, showing again a great example of children knowing what they need.
This small example of having playing cards in the room shows the power that play has in a therapeutic relationship to tap into some of the unconscious processes going on for some children in a really safe way. One little deck of cards can symbolise so many different emotional states for a child, and the magic of play therapy is that the children get to decide for themselves!
Happy playing everyone 😊