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  • Writer's pictureShannon Kelly

How does Play Therapy Help with Childhood Development?

Updated: Feb 13



Sand Tray Therapy

Different Types of Play


When adults go to counselling, they typically tend to acknowledge what their problems are and will sit with a therapist and talk about their issues, design solutions, and work towards wellness. For children, especially those who are young, acknowledging feelings and expressing them verbally may be nearly impossible. Certain children may exhibit shyness or feel hesitant about disclosing their concerns. Play is a natural, comfortable way for children to explore their thoughts and feelings while doing something that they enjoy. Toys and activities can be used as a bridge between child and therapist which allows the client to communicate, self-discover, trust, and learn within the session.


A quote from play therapy researcher Garry Landreth is commonly used to explain this therapy’s effectiveness: “In the play therapy experience, toys are like the child’s words, and play is the child’s language.” Many children associate playing with comfort and kindness, which encourages them to open up. There are several methods of play therapy that work.


Imaginative Play


Imaginative play is commonly referred to as “make believe” by most parents.  This type of play therapy serves as a safe, comfortable safe for clients and therapists to act out scenarios between toys. This may be used to describe a situation that the client has been in using characters, instead of themselves (make them feel detached and less anxious about the situation). This gives children the opportunity to interpret events from other people's perspective, for example how their friend might have felt when they got into a fight with the client. Imaginative play has also been linked to an increase of self-regulation and problem solving skills in children. Parents can encourage imaginative play by providing plenty of props and open ended scenarios that stimulate the imagination. Themes can include role play, fantasy play, and even future situations.


Sensory Play


For parents, sensory play may be messy and not ideal in the fast paced world that most families live in. Toddlers and children commonly find exploring their world through their senses intriguing and joyful. As children grow and develop, so does their touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight. There are many benefits of sensory play which encourage children to investigate the world around them. Activities that involve the five senses have the ability to stimulate their threshold for different sensory stimuli. By engaging these senses, clients' brains are then able to develop stronger connections and develop an idea of useful and unimportant information. Parents can encourage sensory play by providing various tools that stimulate the senses such as water beads, sand, rice, clay, playdoh, music, and finger painting.


Constructive Play


Constructive Play is a technique that assists children with building a variety of skills including problem solving, test ideas, building things, and developing ideas. Not only does this type of play develop fine motor skills, but it also helps foster creativity. Constructive Play also helps to build a sense of confidence in children. Parents can encourage constructive play in children with puzzles, building blocks, magnetic towers, marble runs, and lego.


Benefits of Play


There are several benefits of play including:


  • Hand-eye coordination

  • Imagination development

  • Attention and Concentration

  • Individual confidence

  • Social Confidence

  • Understanding different environments

  • Sensory development


Benefits of Play Therapy


In addition to addressing emotional challenges, play therapy can also benefit children who have experienced trauma, grief, or significant life changes. It provides a safe space for them to process their experiences, reduce anxiety, and restore a sense of stability. Overall, play therapy offers children a supportive and nurturing space to heal, grow, and thrive. It allows them to tap into their innate resilience, creativity, and imagination, fostering their emotional well-being and supporting their overall development.


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