Developmentally Appropriate Play Therapy

children play therapy
children finger painting

I just finished reading chapter 11 in Creative Arts and Play Therapy for Attachment Problems written by Richard L. Gaskill and Bruce D. Perry. The title of the chapter was “The Neurobiological Power of Play”. I thought I would summarize a few of the important points that the authors presented.

Normal vs Compromised Attachments

If attachment relationships are normal, children can safely explore new experiences and master competencies, including the ability to regulate cognitively, behaviorally, and relationally. Secure attachments become the basis of resiliency in children exposed to distressing experiences. When these important attachment systems are compromised through multiple and chronic gaps within care-giving times, crucial neural systems can be altered. This alteration negatively affects key competencies, such as the ability to regulate emotions and experiences.

Importance of Play Therapy

What are the important elements of play? First, play approximates a common or important behavior; second, play is voluntary and pleasurable and, finally, play takes place in a non-threatening, low-stress environment. These key elements are often at odds with many well-intended therapeutic experiences. It is no surprise that the core elements of play echo some of the essential ingredients of successful therapeutic interactions with maltreated and traumatized children.

Appropriate Play for each child

Bringing play into therapeutic work, therefore, not only makes sense; it is often an essential element for therapeutic progress. However it is important to appreciate that “play” for a toddler looks different from “play” for the adolescent. Play is an effective therapeutic agent when it provides a developmentally appropriate means to regulate and communicate. As with other therapeutic approaches, however, therapists often select the manner of “play” according to a child’s chronological age and to their specific training as therapists. Sometimes the expectations a therapist brings into the therapeutic relationship are unrealistic. The resulting mismatch between a therapist’s expectation and a child’s capability undermines the potential for true play and progress is slow or not happening. When the therapist (or parent, caregiver, or teacher) understands the real developmental capabilities of the child and the child’s current state (is he/she calm, alert, fearful), realistic expectations and develop-mentally appropriate activities (including the manner of play) can be used to help the child heal. This crucial awareness of the “stage” and the current “state” is informed by an understanding of neuro-biology.

Family Christian Counseling and Play therapy

One of the important core values of the Centers use of play therapy is that it is always developmentally appropriate, not necessarily age appropriate. If you would like to read more about the Centers use of Play Therapy please click on one of the links below which will take you to appropriate blog posts:

Play therapy and the brain

Play therapy and the Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics

Children and trauma

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