Helping and Healing through Play

Play has many functions in both children and adults. It helps children process their experiences and their learning. It helps all of us to relax, recharge and contributes to feelings of happiness. For children, many developmental milestones are solidified through play, and creative play has been linked with cognitive development and intelligence.

When children experience challenges: loss, parental conflict, anxiety, or trauma of any kind, they will naturally play out their experiences. This helps them organize their feelings and understand what has happened to them. Children who process their experiences this way develop resilience and healthy coping strategies. It also promotes self-regulation.  Play is a natural promoter of healthy development.

When children have experiences that are beyond their ability to cope with it on their own, parents often seek therapy. But many children do not have the cognitive readiness for traditional talk therapy. Play Therapy utilizes the child’s own natural instinct to play through what is hard for them. Therapists who are trained in play, use their knowledge of the child’s story and the child’s cues to support, enhance and deepen the child’s own natural play process. In this way a child heals through their own language of play, with the support and comfort of an adult that they can trust. A good therapist will follow each child’s cue and incorporate play and talk according to each individual child.

Parents can also support their child’s play process. Create opportunities for children to engage in unstructured and imaginative play—with no screens at least once during the day. Try not to react with judgement, upset or frustration with what a child plays out. This will shut a child down and give them the message that their play is not okay. This can leave children stuck with no other way to process their experiences. Typically, children play what they need to play, and even play with aggressive themes is healthy. If you do have ongoing concerns regarding the content of a child’s play, consult a play therapist to see if your child may need more support. But most of all remember that play is helpful, healthy and healing—no matter how old you are!