Play Therapy,  The Lifegiver Blog

Play Therapy at Home, Day 4: Games that Teach

The sun peaked through the clouds today for about an hour and I think every kid in the neighborhood came out to see it.  That’s probably not true- the parents probably threw them outside.  I connected with some neighborhood moms as I watched children running through the mud and using grass puddles as slip-and-slides.  What a happy moment to feel the vitamin D!  After a wonderful afternoon filled with grown-up time with lunch guests, the boys were itching for time to connect.  Sometimes, no matter how tired you are, you just know the evening needs to balance out with family time.  We usually fill this time with cards or a board game around the table.  A quick game of UNO or even go-fish “fills the bucket” of connection every time.

Play therapy is not always about searching for facts and feelings.  Often time, play therapy is used for teaching social skills and working through relationships.  Many children I work with begin therapy because the parents see anger or anxiety symptom. However, once you know the facts, therapy is about building communication and working through social situations they feel stuck in.  For this reason, play therapy often goes well into therapy with adolescents.  Believe it or not, I have teenagers that love to come in and rake their fingers through the sandbox as they talk about their problems.  After all, they are only children in bigger bodies (I mean that in the best way!).

Tonight we played one of the boys favorites.  It’s called “Friendship Island” and I ordered from Discovery Toys.  I don’t remember it being this expensive, but here it is on Amazon.com.  I highly recommend buying this game if you have very young children who could play this for years or if you have a child with any developmental delays that will be working through complicated social situations for a long time.  Don’t let the price sway you, though, because today I want to talk about how you can make one of your own. 

The concept of Friendship Island is that as you move through the game board (think Candyland) the players answer questions about what they would do in various situations involving friends, making friends, and keeping friends.  Friendship Island gives different rules for playing based on age groups allowing younger ones to move easier throughout the board and even ask other players for help.  The player rolls the dice and moves that many spaces.  Based on which color they land on, the player is asked a question off of a card of that color.  Questions are true/false questions, multiple choice, and “describe a time when you ____”.  The questions give the children an opportunity to think of times when they shared with someone else, waited their turn, or took opportunities to try to work things out with a friend rather than tattling.

If you want to make your own, you can use most any game board (Candyland, Sorry, etc).  If you want to get super crafty, you could use index cards to write out questions.  If you don’t have hours on hand to do that kind of detail work, consider having certain colors or certain spaces on the board connect with a theme.  For example, yellow spaces are about how to make friends (Think of questions that have to do with how to ask a friend about their interests, avoid bragging, introducing themselves, playing along with the other child’s games, and how to give compliments). Another color can be the theme of keeping friends (Knowing when to tell a parent or teacher, how to work through a disagreement, how to handle hurt feelings, rumors, and playing along together).  Other colors could represent describing successful moments they have had.  Easy questions that give you an opportunity to praise a child for good decisions they made taking turns, sharing, working things out with a friend or sibling, told the truth, etc.  Don’t make this too hard on yourself.  Keep it simple, your kids will appreciate it.  Even easier, have the kids help you come up with the questions that go with each theme.

One important rule in a game like this is that (especially for younger ones) there doesn’t need to be a winner.  This is one of those times when everyone wins.  I know there is a lot of attention on our generation for not having “losers” in sports and games.  The movie Parental Guidance was AWESOME and I highly recommend it, not to mention it is hilarious- it gave me a great perspective on how others might see some of my parenting decisions.  But for this game, winning promotes openness in the discussions.  The last thing you need is a frustrated 4 yr old who is more concerned about losing than thinking about working through the idea of sharing.

I love this one, where they used paint swatches to glue a new game board.

I also love this one, that someone made for a child with Autism, but issues very relevant to all children.

Let me know if you need more examples of questions and scenarios.  And don’t forget to think out some good answers!  Be vulnerable yourself and tell your children about times when you didn’t make good decisions, how you felt, and when you struggled in a relationship.  Tonight, I had the opportunity to tell my boys that even as a grown up when a friend stops talking to me, I am tempted to feel like they don’t want to be my friend anymore.  Yet, the best answer is to go to them and talk to them about it in order to find out if I have done anything wrong.  This not only reminds them that I am human, it also shows them that adulthood is not going to be perfect and free of hurt.

What friendship struggles do you see your children struggling with?