Play therapy – What parents should know

Children love to play and it’s now well established that play is a cornerstone in child development and learning. So essential is play, that Maria Montessori, one of the most brilliant educators of the last century, described play as “the work of a child.” 

Play is often incorporated into various forms of  therapy for children, such as occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, in order to help them  develop and practice different skills. However, there is also a form of paediatric therapy that is solely focused on play, which emerged from elements of child psychotherapy that were pioneered by Anne Freud in the 1920s – play therapy. 

But what is “play therapy” exactly? What does it focus on, and would your child benefit from it? Read on to find out. 

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a non-directive, child led form of psychotherapy. The aim of play therapy is to help a child to work through their cognitive, emotional and behavioural challenges in a developmentally-appropriate way. Play therapists use tools like toys, sand, art, music, movements, and clay to help the child explore, express and safely process  the difficulties they are working through. 

According to Dr. Garry Landreth, one of the greatest teachers and leaders in the field of play therapy, play can relieve stress, enhance connections in relationships, stimulate creative expression and exploration, and help a child to regulate their emotions. 

By tapping into the brain’s neuroplasticity (the nervous system’s ability to reorganise its structure, functions or connections in response to stimuli), the positive relationships and experiences in  play therapy sessions can help a child’s brain to rewire itself, resulting in a better understanding of their issues, more regulated feelings and more adaptable behaviours.

The main focus of play therapy

The main focus of play therapy are the relationships and experiences that:

  • Form a therapeutic relationship that enables the child to regulate their emotions
  • Help the child to explore their concerns, communicate their emotions and find solutions to problems via the medium of play.
  • Enable children and families to better communicate with one another, express their feelings, and find solutions to issues that they are facing.
  • Create positive structural changes in the brain.
  • Empower children in building  self awareness, confidence and resilience. 
  • Provide an emotionally safe and accepting environment where a child can experience their natural process of growth and healing.

Can my child benefit from play therapy?

Play therapy has been shown to be beneficial in supporting a child’s happiness, self-esteem, self-confidence, imagination, creativity, focus, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and an overall sense of well-being. Therefore, it can be beneficial for children of all ages. 


However, it is often used and found to be most effective in children aged 3 to 12, particularly those with the following challenges:

  • Children with behavioural difficulties

For example autistic children, those with physical and learning disabilities, as well as those with pervasive developmental, academic, and social developmental delays, which impact their behaviour and conduct.

  • Children with experiences of abuse, loss or trauma

For example children who have experienced or are experiencing life stressors like abuse, loss or trauma, major transitions, or a wide range of challenges amid social, emotional, and behavioural issues. 

  • Children who have difficulty expressing their emotions

For example children who are facing emotional and mental challenges like:  anxiety, depression, difficulty with executive function and self-control, speech and language challenges, and so on.

  • Children who have low self-esteem and low confidence 

For example children who are shy, timid, and those who have difficulties in initiating and fostering peer relationships.

What you can expect as a parent

Once you’ve enrolled your child in play therapy, you can expect:

  • Session frequency and duration

Sessions will occur once a week, with each session generally being 45 minutes long.

  • Your child will take the lead

There is no pressure on your child, they can do things in their own time and how they want to do it.

  • Play will put your child at ease

As your child plays in ways that feel the most natural to them, it makes it easier for them to open up and share their feelings with the therapist.

  • Catered to the child

The goals and strategies applied in the play therapy sessions  are based on your child’s individual needs.

  • The therapist’s role

The therapist will observe the solutions that your child attempts during play, and help them to actively learn new ways to solve problems or process past trauma

If you think that your child could benefit from play therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us today to book an appointment.

This article was reviewed by Hyma Sasikumar, our Senior Lead Interventionist and Therapeutic Play Practitioner.

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