Play Therapy: Day One The Basics
There is nothing like being excited to start a new project to benefit all the other stay-at-home moms of the world and then be completely humbled by the frustration of little people with whom you are about to do awesome stuff with. Isn’t that how it goes? I mean come on. I am riddled with guilt everyday over all the things I could and should be doing with my children, knowing that they will go to their own therapist some day complaining of how I didn’t spend time enough time playing with them, And then the therapist will look at them with concerning, understanding eyes and ask “What did you mom do for a living?” And they will say I was a therapist. So the pressure is on, or at least until I let it go. Today, I just take a deep breath and remind myself that I am human and someday they will accept that too.
So, day one. I’m pumped about painting with them, but tell the boys we have to have lunch first. The next thing I know, I am in massive conflict with my nine year old who wants his turkey sandwich just like Subway. Now, I am all about options. In fact, that is the first think you should know about play therapy. You can’t walk in with a complete agenda- there has to be room for creativity. So I decided to set the atmosphere.
“You can have a sandwich, but anything but PB&J, just for today.” Well the fight was on.
“Only if it’s a wrap”
“I’m out of wraps. What if you be creative and make one like Subway? You can choose your ingredients!” (Said with great inflection and positivity).
“Can I have it toasted and on Italian bread?”
“Ummmm…. Sure… but I don’t have Italian bread, just my awesome homemade bread.” (Said with less inflection and less positivity). Here is where it got bad. My nine year old who is extremely detailed starts to place his Burger King-type of order. He wants it toasted, with Ranch, but wants the lettuce and Ranch put on after its toasted. Of course, that can’t be done after the freakin’ cheese has stuck the whole thing together! “But that’s they way Subway does it!” (He says with great confidence). I’m beginning to lose it here, cause, geez kid- I’m trying to set the stage for healing and understanding and what I’m getting is a stand off over a turkey sandwich.
At this point, Matt walks in with a sly grin and says, “Glad you’re planning to do some play therapy with them, hun. Seems like you’ll have plenty to work with.”
We got through lunch with a little bit of compromise for both of us, reminders that we are NOT a Subway kitchen, another lesson in talking back, and a humbled Mom who is reminded that you can try your best but these are different personalities you’re working with. When you are the parent, you will only get so much from your child. That’s why a therapist is considered safe and disconnected. But what I want to arm you with is some tools to take to your play time so you can really listen to your children. So with that, let’s talk about a few basics.
- When you can, give them options on what they would like to play. Some days they will feel like painting, other days may be a sand day. (Tomorrow, I will be armed with more choices).
- Don’t ask leading questions like, “Doesn’t that make you feel sad?” Instead, try to use as few words as possible. Try, “When you think of [that], how does it make you feel inside?
- Kids open up more when you aren’t making eye contact. Playing side by side is less threatening and the brain is not multitasking on 2 things at once.
- Sometimes play can be how they are currently feeling and other times can be used to help them think ahead at how they will handle the future- try not to rush them into the latter.
- Put your phone in a different room! This is family time.
- If you or the child seems frustrated, or finished… end it. You may want to paint for 2 hours, but they may be done in 5 minutes and that’s ok.
So, there you go. I will share with you tomorrow how our first day went. I also hope to give you resources for each technique in case you want to read further. Remember, don’t take it too seriously, and don’t read into it too much. If you get concerned, call someone to help. As I go along, I want to hear from you on what areas I’m not covering or what you would like to see. Happy playing!!