Although it has become much more popular in recent decades, play therapy has actually been around since the 1920’s. Early pioneers such as Anna Freud and Melanie Klein created models for play therapy which are still hugely influential in our work with children today. But how do you know if your child needs therapy?
Behavioural problems can mask emotional difficulties in children, so if your child is acting out and behaving badly, that could be a sign that she needs help. Sometimes you can be distracted and caught up with your own life and it can be hard to notice that your child is struggling. Although not comprehensive, this checklist may serve as a guide:
possible indicators for sending your child to therapy
- drug or alcohol abuse
- school refusal
- separation anxiety
- isolation and withdrawal
- poor school performance
- low self-esteem/extreme shyness
- eating problems (under-eating, over-eating, binge-eating)
- poor relationship with parent
- no friends or very inappropriate friends
- sleep disturbances
- no energy/motivation/enthusiasm
- irritable/depressed/suicidal thoughts
- somatic complaints (for example, a sore tummy that is not related to physical condition)
As an adult, when you are upset about something you are usually able to sit down with a friend and talk about it. But children can’t always easily express what is upsetting them. Ask them, Why are you being bad tempered? or How is school? Or How are you getting along with your friends? You might not get much of an answer. It’s quite common for kids not to be able to have these kinds of conversations. It takes time and lots of practice to develop the skill of talking in a clear, coherent, direct way about your feelings.
Luckily, children up to the age of about 12 years are usually able to make use of the medium of play in order to express and work through their feelings. That is why child psychologists offer play therapy to children who are struggling in their lives. Play is a powerful tool that can be used to explore a child’s inner world. When kids can’t use words to describe complex feelings, play offers them a form of expression and release. It also helps them to start putting together the pieces of their own minds and to develop a more solid, cohesive sense of self.