Often times our children's counselor and play therapist, Kelly Martin, will use parents in the playroom with their child. The purpose of this is to improve connectivity, to enhance the parent child relationship, to increase trust and security, and to increase a level of mutual enjoyment of each other. Through this unique play time with a parent, the child will feel accepted and understood. Through play, the child will have the opportunity to release tension, feelings, and burdens. How a child feels about himself will make a significant difference in behavior.
The main task for the parent during the play session is to see and experience the child's play through the child's eyes. The parent communicates this understanding through an attitude of being present and by verbally describing the play and reflecting the child's feelings.
We want children to experience these attitudes from the parent:
I am here. I see you. I understand. I care.
Listed below are 4 basic skills parents can utilize in a play therapy session:
1. Tracking play: Watch and track your child's activity, expressions, and intentions. Describe out loud what you see so that your child perceives your undivided attention, your child learns words for their actions and feelings, and you learn about your child's play. It may sound something like this: "Oh I see you're filling that up with sand. You laughed when that one spilled out. You are going back to that toy. It seems like you are comparing the two." Notice how the toys were not labeled by the name we know. Allow your child to use and name toys as they perceive them to be.
2. Following Their Lead: Allow your child to decide what and how to play. Do not ask leading questions. Allow your child to be creative. This gives your child a feeling of having control and fosters creativity.
3. Reflecting Feeling: Notice how your child is feeling and verbally tell them what you notice. This helps your child learn words for feelings, it increases their self-awareness, and it shows them you are paying attention. It may sound something like: "You were surprised to find that in there." "You are feeling frustrated getting that open." "You seem to really be having fun."
4. Allowing Mastery of Skills: Don't do for a child what he can do for himself. It's so easy to jump in and assist with a task or to initiate an activity. Wait for your child to ask you to help with a difficult task, but be careful not to completely do the task for them. This sends a message that you are confident in your child's abilities and are supportive of their learning new skills. It helps build self-esteem.
Using parents in the playroom is an important piece to a child's progress. As the parent observes the counselor and learns these special play techniques, the parent can begin using them at home for special play times.