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Play Therapy for Children

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KEY POINTS

  • Play therapy uses toys, games, and drama to help children express their feelings without words. Play therapy can be helpful for children of all ages but is most often used for children between the ages of 3 and 12.
  • Your child may use dolls, action figures, modeling clay, art supplies, or other toys to express themselves and work on their problems.
  • Ask your child's healthcare provider or school counselor to recommend a play therapist. Psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists may provide play therapy.

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What is play therapy?

Play therapy uses toys, games, and drama to help children learn to express and deal with their feelings. Often children are better at expressing themselves through play than with words.

When is it used?

Play therapy is used to treat:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and impulse control
  • Learning disabilities
  • Autistic spectrum disorder
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Shyness and poor relationship skills
  • Family issues such as divorce or the death of a loved one
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a car accident, natural disaster, child abuse, or domestic violence
  • Stress from chronic illness, surgery, or other treatments

Play therapy can be helpful for children of all ages but is most often used for children between the ages of 3 and 12.

What happens during a therapy session?

Play therapists create a safe and interesting place for your child. This helps your child feel comfortable and willing to explore new ways of coping. Your child may use dolls, action figures, modeling clay, art supplies, or other toys to express himself and work on his problems.

The therapist may observe as your child chooses the toys he wishes to play with. Or the therapist may choose toys based on your child’s problems and age. The therapist will observe how your child plays with the toys, the feelings he expresses, and any aggressive actions. The therapist will set limits on your child's behavior if needed. The therapist works to develop a good relationship with your child and learn what is causing the problems your child has.

Usually, therapists work only with your child and then report their findings to you. The therapist will answer any questions you have and suggest how you can best help and support your child.

How do I find a play therapist?

Ask your child's healthcare provider or school counselor to recommend a play therapist. Psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists may provide play therapy.

The International Society for Child and Play Therapy lists Registered Play Therapists on their Web site. The Web site address is http://www.playtherapy.org.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2016-09-20
Last reviewed: 2016-09-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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