1. Kids are typically more honest than adults.
And not necessarily in the way that leads to insight. If a kid does not want to engage with you, they will let you know. I don’t have to do the guess work of whether they are genuinely getting something out of being in therapy. You will be able to tell. Most of the time, a child hasn’t learned yet how to lie.
2. Kids keep me on my toes.
Historically, I need to mentally prep more when I’m getting ready to have a therapy session with a child. They require constant observation and engagement. If I can be honest, it’s easier for your mind to wander when sitting across from an adult who’s been talking for 15 straight minutes about their problems. There’s no room for that in play therapy. I am all in, every moment I am with the child.
3. Kids are hilarious.
I wish I could compile a book of random, funny things my kid clients have said in session. It would legit become a best seller. Many of the kids I see struggle with appropriate social cues and development. But this makes for some hysterical conversations.
4. Play Therapy is powerful.
Who knew that a simple board game or a tray of sand can be used to express a child’s deepest fears and highest hopes? Simple materials can be transformed into tools to teach kids skills, help them learn emotion management, and exorcise traumatic memories. To an outsider, my office looks like a distraction or a way to introduce the actual treatment, but it IS the treatment for the child. It’s the focus and their language. I love that about Play.
5. My inner child has a regular place to go.
I think implementing Play Therapy helps me personally, too. I can remember part of my childhood being marred by seriousness and trauma. I had to grow up faster than I wanted. Play Therapy allows me to let my hair down and engage in a pure place. I love fostering this place for a child, as well. Not to mention I get to spend hours each week playing on the floor with Play-doh and Barbie dolls.
6. I love teaching parents how to play with their children.
There’s a powerful attachment that takes place when a child plays with a caregiver/adult. It’s actually more effective than moments where a parent implements discipline or instruction. Integral concepts like kindness, fairness, and reciprocity are fostered within the relationship during play. Without the child’s, and often the parent’s, awareness. You want to profoundly impact your child? Get on their level and play with them. I’ve been in moments where you can literally feel the bond between a child and the adult grow stronger, right in front of me in my office. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of my job.
7. I teach children what to do with power.
This one sounds odd, I’ll admit. One of the reasons children misbehave is to gain power. This is an appropriate desire, because it’s connected to the path towards independence. It’s the adults’ (including teachers, family, counselors, etc. ) jobs to teach a child appropriate use of power and independence through self-control and respect for others. Giving a child age appropriate power is really the only way to teach them this. If you’re always telling a child what to do and never giving them spaces to decide for themselves, you are forcing compliance but not teaching self-control/independence. I like to use nondirective play therapy with my most oppositional kids. While they are used to fighting with adults over control of a time/environment, I give them a healthy amount of control through nondirective play. Meaning they decided what we do with the time in session. Hopefully, nondirective play can help satisfy a need for power little by little. I’ve had parents question this part of my treatment, but it truly is important.
8. Play is fun.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. 🙂
9. It has helped me be a better mommy.
I’ll admit, I use myself and my kids as guinea pigs when conceiving a new play technique. But it’s helpful for me to put myself, as a mom, in my client’s parents’ shoes. This helps me foster more empathy and patience with some of my most frustrated, stubborn parents. Empathy is essential. It’s easy for a play therapist to “blame” the parents for a child’s issues, but empathy helps see things from a family systems perspective. My kids/families teach me lessons on a constant basis and I eat a huge helping of humble pie daily.
10. I am a place a refuge for my kids.
It’s a thought that took a while to get over, but it is now a constant reminder of the important work I do every day. Many of the kids that come to see me for therapy have no other healthy, consistent attachment with another adult. When they sit and play and learn in my office, they are given an opportunity to express whatever they choose, without being forced, criticized, or judged.
There is a script Play Therapists say at the beginning of each session that I typically use:
“This is a safe place for you, and I am your safety person. You can do or say most anything you want while you are here. If you can’t, then I will let you know.”