This week I'd like to give a big welcome to Play Therapist, Mary Stuart Neill. My family has enjoyed working with her and I am thrilled to share an article with you that she wrote just for us. This article is a simple how to for parents of young children. The type of play she instructs really allows a parent to get to know their small child's inner world. She also takes the time to share some great resources. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to either of us.
It's time to get back to the basics and play! Children benefit from the power of play in reducing stress and engaging in activity that allows for creative expression characterized by intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Play provides an opportunity to enjoy the process without the pressure of an end result. Positive feelings accompany play experiences bringing forth smiles and laughter. Play is a child's natural language and it is through this authentic communication that they can teach parents about their inner world. Through play time with your child you will build a secure child-parent relationship which is an essential factor for children's well being. While spending time playfully with children of all ages is beneficial to the child-parent relationship, the special play sessions outlined in this blog are geared more toward ages 3-8.
1. Make time to play with your child. Schedule a time and place once a week to spend an uninterrupted 30 minutes with your child. Turn off all screens and mute all phones. Lay a blanket on the floor and set imaginative play toys around it. Store these toys in a container you put away and bring out each week for your special play session. Imaginative play toys to include might be blocks, match box cars, dramatic play clothes, small play animals, a shoe box, pipe cleaners, construction paper, crayons and children's scissors. These play sessions are best done 1:1. One child, one parent.
2. Let your child take the lead and enter his world through his play. Reflect what you see or hear rather than asking questions or teaching. An example might be : "You are looking at that and deciding what you want to do". Avoid labeling toys to allow your child to use his imagination. If he calls a toy rabbit a duck, allow it to be a duck! Reflect back with his language so he feels understood. Don't worry if your child corrects you. It's his way of making sure you understand him. If your child asks you questions about something, use it as an opportunity to say "During our special play time, that can be whatever you want it to be!"
3. Create a "Be With" attitude when playing with your child. The goal is to attune to your child so he feels "heard". Get on your child's level and sit next to him. Rule of thumb: Your nose and toes should align with where your child is playing. Match your tone of voice to his. If he has excitement in his voice, your reflection needs to match it ("You are Excited!"). Once you enter your child's world you might be surprised at how much he tells you though his play. The play sessions will open up opportunities for you to see themes and metaphors that provide a view of the child's inner world.
A Word of Caution
The more you learn, the more you may want to know! This is a natural desire, but if you probe it may defeat the purpose. Stay in the play and resist temptation to ask questions or place meaning on the play that the child hasn't offered. This will interrupt the imaginative play and create a different experience for you and your child. If your child is a pleaser for instance, he may perceive you want the play to shift and you will lose the opportunity to see into his world as he attempts to enter yours! Conversely, a child who is experiencing the joy of play and attunement with a parent may react by shutting down or becoming agitated.
Want to learn more?
Special play sessions are a great way to strengthen the child parent relationship. If you want to delve deeper and/or your child is exhibiting some emotional or behavioral disregulation, a Registered Play Therapist (RPT) can help! Registered Play Therapists are master level licensed clinicians trained as children's therapists to help children using the language of play. Some have specific training in Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) which is a 10 Session Filial Therapy Model for Training Parents. The therapist will work individually or in a group setting with parents and teach them the tenants of using empirically sound child centered play therapy techniques to use in play sessions with their child which they will practice each week. The tips in this blog are derived from this program (Bratton, Landreth, Kellam, Blackard) however there is much more to learn! The course is equivalent to a masters level course. Research shows that positive outcomes are achieved faster when a Registered Play Therapist trains a parent to do play sessions than when the therapist does them herself. You can contact the Georgia Association for Play Therapy and the Association for Play Therapy to find a registered play therapist in your area and ask if they offer this training.
To learn more about play therapy ask a Registered Play Therapist for a copy of the brochure "Why Play Therapy" or call APT at 559-252-2278 to request a copy. Other resources that offer insight into the many benefits of play include:
"10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play" by Laurel Bongiorno
"The Power of Play" by David Elkind (Da Copa, 2007 reprint)
"Make The Most of Playtime"
"Play Therapy -Innovations TV" DMGTelevision
"Child-Centered Play Therapy DVD Preview" routledgetherapy
"Child Parent Relationship Therapy"
By Mary Stuart Neill, M.Ed., LPC, RPT-S, CPCS
Mary Stuart Neill is a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor in Alpharetta Georgia. She has been a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) for 18 years. Mary Stuart began her career as an Early Childhood Educator, became a School Counselor, and then went into mental health. Mary Stuart specializes in child, adolescent and family therapy and is a Clinical Professional Counselor Supervisor(CPCS) for associate therapists working toward licensure. She is also a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor (RPT-S) for licensed therapists working toward becoming Registered Play Therapists. Training parents in Child Parent Relationship Therapy is one of Mary Stuart's favorite ways to help families. You can reach Mary Stuart and her co-therapist Harley (rescue dog) at 678-524-5241 or at MaryStuart@CrabappleCounselingllc.com, to find out when her next CPRT class is or to learn more about play therapy! To learn more about Mary Stuart and her specialties visit her website at www.CrabappleCounselingllc.com
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Emma B Perez