Child's play is more than just fun and games--it's a window into a child's world. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is essential to a child's mental health, allowing them to develop socially, cognitively, and emotionally.
Play therapy is a therapeutic approach that allows children to express painful feelings through the use of dolls, sand trays, puppets, games, and other toys. For more than 50 years, therapists have used a variety of play therapy techniques to treat traumatized children, according to the British Association of Play Therapists..
Dolls are a common therapeutic tool in treating children. Dolls allow the sexually abused child to act out situations that may be too embarrassing or confusing to communicate verbally. (See References 3) Dolls make great receptacles for punches or hugs, allowing children to exhibit anger or other feelings toward their assailant in a safe environment.
If you are a therapist, you may use anatomically correct dolls as a way to allow the child to demonstrate the extent and nature of the abuse. Anatomical dolls are controversial, with some therapists arguing that they are too sexually suggestive to use with children, says the website of the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault.
Children use the sand tray to create various scenes and story lines, using toys and figurines of their choosing. The mini-world of the sand tray mirrors the child's real world, and provides children an outlet to express their feelings, says social worker Merrill Powers.
You will probably consider puppets an indispensable tool in play therapy. The puppet operates as an emotional buffer for the child, providing a way for the therapist to communicate with the child in an indirect and non-threatening manner. If the therapist notices the child is sad or withdrawn, she can project these feelings onto the puppet, and then use the puppet to initiate a dialogue with the child.
Games represent another way for you to connect with the abused or traumatized child. You can play games designed to draw the child out and build rapport. One such game involves a therapist and the child taking turns stacking blocks, saying one thing that makes you angry after setting each block in place. Your statements should reflect something of the child's experience, and progress in emotional intensity with each block. To end the game, you can ask the child to come up with one thing that makes him especially angry, and then have him knock the blocks down. The purpose of this game is to show children that anger is a natural human response, and to give the child a way to talk about her anger.