Trauma is an event or a series of events that leaves someone helpless and unable to cope. It can affect children, and they react differently to trauma depending on their age, personality, past experiences, and the support around them. But something that cuts across all traumatized kids is that it affects whole personality, body, mind, and relationship with others.
Causes of trauma in kids
- Trauma in children can result from different events, including:
- Sexual assault.
- Serious accidents.
- Emotional abuse.
- Witnesses domestic violence.
- Physical abuse.
- Forced relocation.
- Ongoing conflict between parents.
Play therapy is used primarily for helping children cope with trauma because they may not be able to articulate problems or process their emotions like adults. Play therapy might look like regular playtime, but there is more to it than meets the eye.
Trained play therapists observe and gain insights into a child’s struggles through play therapy. In the process, the child learns coping mechanisms and how to redirect inappropriate behaviors.
How it works
Unlike adults, children don’t possess the language skills of expressing their inner feelings. Even if they do, they may lack a trusted individual to express themselves to. Besides, adults can miss or misinterpret a child’s verbal and non-verbal cues.
However, children can express themselves through child play, where they can release their deepest feelings and emotions. Unique kids’ toys serve as symbols, and therapists use them to observe and gain insights into the child’s behavior and feelings.
A therapist can observe a lot from how a child interacts with their toys. That includes how their behavior changes from one session to another. Some use play to act out fears, problem-solve, or as a soothing mechanism.
In other words, a play therapist joins the child in their world, on their level, and helps them feel relaxed to share their feelings. The therapist may observe the child as they play and interview their parents and teachers. They also pay more attention to how the child handles being separated from their parent, how they react when their parent returns, and how they play alone.
The therapist may incorporate family members, including parents and siblings, into play therapy to promote healing, teach coping mechanisms and improve family dynamics.
Benefits of play therapy
According to research, 71% of children referred to play therapy experienced a positive change. Although many start with hesitation, they get more comfortable, creative, and verbal in the play when they trust the play therapists. Here are the benefits of play therapy for children experiencing trauma.
- It provides a safe avenue for the child to express and explore their inner feelings and vulnerabilities.
- It allows children to work out issues through play.
- Children react to trauma by acting out through play; therefore, the therapy facilitates the natural response.
- It allows a child to distance themselves from the traumatic event through symbolic play, which is a safer approach.
- It allows the child to heal from the trauma at their pace to ensure they are not retraumatized.
When you seek play therapy, always look for a licensed mental health professional with extensive experience.