When a parent asks their child, “What did you do in therapy?” and they describe an hour of play, there can be confusion about what is actually happening and whether it will truly help.

Play is the language of children. Their minds do not yet have the ability to think abstractly about how they are feeling and put it into reflective words. They can more efficiently and effectively show their anxiety by having something scary happen in play than when asked directly why they are upset. The job of the therapist is to listen to the play like a conversation and respond in a child-focused way that builds mastery and insight into strong feelings.

At the same time, most kids who are anxious or struggling could benefit from learning how to relax their bodies and minds, and also how to recognize and stop unhelpful thoughts from creeping in and getting them upset. Play therapy may at times involve movement, relaxation, and focused body awareness. (eg, noticing an increased heart rate when anxious and practicing calming breaths).

Play is the gateway to the thoughts and feelings of children; it is not inconsequential or frivolous. In fact, parents should be encouraged that when you play with your children, you are doing so much more than entertaining. You are helping to form brain structures, memories, and language that will serve them well. It is also sometimes the case that having a parent join in play during a therapy session is just the thing that is needed to keep the growth going.

These Emerge therapists see children: