While the term “play therapy” may be common in families who have had a brush with mental health, the concept of engaging in therapy through play may not be quite as familiar for anyone who has not actively engaged in such a practice, or enlisted the help of a child or family therapist. Play therapy is an important therapeutic modality for children who are exhibiting symptoms of mental health conditions or disorders, but play therapy is not the only type of play that can introduce the idea of mental health to children and encourage stronger mental health. Games played at home can have a similar effect on children and their families. Don’t forget that we do have our own series of articles helping kids to talk about mental health issues on the site.
Therapy through play
The value in play therapy is immense. Children are not as readily prepared to discuss their mental health as adults are, or may not even have the language to do so. Play therapy can help bridge any gaps that might exist between a child’s ability to discuss their mental health issues and needs and the ability of a therapist to adequately engage a child’s interest. Play therapy can be used to target specific disorders, but it can also be used to suss out unknown issues parents, educators, or caregivers have brought to the attention of a mental health professional.
Creating a safe space
One of the many ways that games introduce mental health to children is by introducing a safe space. Children are intrigued by and engaged with games, and broaching the subject of mental health in a game setting can help children feel at ease, and lessen the heaviness of the interaction in question. Because mental health can be overwhelming for children and their caregivers (and even some childcare and education professionals), providing a calming and structured environment can be essential.
Speaking children’s language
Games are geared toward children’s developmental stages and communication habits. Unlike standard therapy and other introductory methods for childhood mental health management, games allow children to communicate and be communicated with in a way that is easily digestible and understood. From modifying existing or known games, like Uno, to using mindfulness activities, games allow parents and authority figures to engage with children in a way that seems enjoyable and entertaining, while introducing mental health concepts.
Teaching coping tactics
Games can be used to teach children coping tactics for their mental health concerns and issues. Games can be used to foster healthy habits regarding anxiety and depression, and they can also be used to help children learn how to manage outbursts of emotional and compulsion issues, as might be found in children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or Disruptive Behavior Disorder. Teaching coping tactics through games can also help children who are uninterested in or reticent to develop healthy management skills.
Though it may seem strange to the uninitiated, play has been identified as an invaluable part of a child’s overall development. Play has now been identified as the primary way in which children are introduced to concepts such as problem solving, social engagement, and interpersonal skills. Encouraging play is, on its own, a powerful tool in helping children develop appropriately and support mental health, but when play is combined with therapy, a truly wonderful result can emerge.
Play therapy is usually associated with a therapy office or mental health professional, but educators and parents can also use play to introduce mental health concepts to young children. These concepts can be introduced as abstract ideas in order to raise awareness and education regarding mental health, but they can also be used to provide children with simple and concrete ways to manage existing symptoms of mental disorders or conditions.
We hope that this has been helpful to you – do check out some of the other articles on the site around mental health and education.
There are other mental health related ideas across the web too.
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