February 18, 2019

How Play Therapy Helps Grieving Children

As adults, we often picture counseling or therapy as someone sitting in a room talking to a professional about their problems. However, counseling with children often requires a different approach due to the developmental age of the child. Your child’s counselor may offer them opportunities to use different types of imaginative play materials, such as puppets, dollhouse elements, art supplies or figures in a sand tray.

Families sometimes wonder whether “just playing” can truly be therapeutic in helping children cope with grief and loss. The play therapy rooms at Kids Path are filled with carefully chosen toys, games and activities designed to let kids outwardly express their internal experiences. Dr. Garry Landreth, a pioneer of play therapy, explains it this way: “In play therapy, toys are viewed as the child’s words and play as the child’s language.”

Following are some of the key benefits of play therapy for grieving children.

Allowing symbolic expression of feelings

It can be difficult for kids to identify or verbally describe how they are feeling. Play therapy provides a safe space where a child can use a puppet to voice feelings, or demonstrate an emotion through the actions of a toy. A child who is not able to speak out loud about their inner experience will often be willing to show it through play.

Opportunities to self-regulate strong emotions

Young children have not yet fully developed their capacity for big feelings. Child-directed play therapy allows the child to engage in activities that naturally provide nervous system regulation, such as scooping and pouring sand.

A way to be in control of a scary situation

 Sometimes in play therapy, children create imaginative scenarios with elements of danger—for example, they might narrate a story about a zebra that falls into quicksand and becomes buried. Because the child is in full control of what happens next, they can use imaginative play to indirectly process feelings of worry or fear while remaining safe and in-control.

Experiencing resilience and mastery

Play therapy provides many chances for a child to explore unfamiliar activities and learn resilience. Counselors who use play therapy are trained in specific ways to support children through frustration while they are building new skills, which then become a source of self-esteem.

Children’s Grief Counseling at Kids Path

Children as young as 4 years old may be eligible for play therapy and other individual counseling at Kids Path after experiencing a significant loss due to death or illness. Kids Path counseling is available at no charge. Call 336.544.5437 to speak with a licensed Kids Path counselor.