For play therapists, a big part of the way we view play is through our interactions with children and teens. We’ve mentioned in the blog before that a huge aspect of play is the way it lends itself to be an illuminating medium that brings us closer into our children and teens’ inner world. The way we–as adults–respond to this, can make a huge difference in exploring this inner world.
Virginia Axline, a pioneer in the world of child play therapy, developed a list of attitudes that all play therapists should have. And, even though she has centered her work around the professional therapeutic relationship, I believe that most of these attitudes can apply to all parents. Especially, when playing with their children.
Here are five of my favorite ones you can practice when playing with your child:
1. A warm and friendly relationship with the child.
Before anything else, there should be a basic foundation of trust and love to promote play. Children who do not feel safe in the parent-child relationship, are unlikely to engage in a free and imaginative nature of play. So, for play therapists, the basic key before engaging in an intervention is to establish a therapeutic relationship.
There’s a saying I love that goes,
“if (parents) don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, (children) won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big”.
The same applies to play. The way parents respond to that magical world they are so energetically showing us determines the level of trust in the parent-child bond. Therefore, a warm and friendly attitude towards the playing scenario is so important.
2. Unconditional acceptance of the child.
I always tell the parents I work with, that a condition for your love as a parent should never exist. What I mean by this, is that your love should never be something that your child has a fear of losing. Parents should be explicit and clear when they tell their children: “nothing you can do or say will ever change my love for you”.
This guarantee of your love sends another important message: you’re accepting your child exactly for who they are. You are validating their authenticity and self-expression. It’s important that your child feels like you support them no matter what because that precise authenticity is what they’ll carry on until adulthood.
3. The child is free to express his or her feelings through play.
This one is important! Many times, parents might get anxious about their child’s play (I’ve written an article about red flags which you can read here). It’s important to understand that when children put their anxieties, their fears, and their inner world in their play, they no longer need to act them out.
What does this mean? The more feelings and emotional expression that children put in their play, the healthier they’re becoming. As adults, our curiosity and acceptance will provide a safe place for children to do precisely this. Play is the best medium for children to play out their inner world.
4. The child leads, and the adult follows.
Sometimes, we might feel the need to direct the play because what our children are putting out there “makes little sense for us”. We must actively and consciously resist this urge to “control” our children’s playing scenario. It’s their way of expressing their feelings. Not ours. The more they lead the play, the abler they are of working through their inner world anxieties.
5. Boundaries are important.
Boundaries are not only important but necessary for our children’s socioemotional development. When we establish boundaries about the physical space of the playroom, picking up toys at the end, or even the way our children relate to the toys, we are sending an important message. One that says: I care about you and I want you to be safe and responsible.
What are some attitudes you include during your playing session with your child? Comment below!