4 Play Therapy Skills I Use In Parenting

Photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net.

Photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net.

If you have followed this blog long enough, you know that being a mom and a child therapist are two important roles in my life, and I love to write about my journey in these roles. I cannot imagine what kind of mom I would be without my psychology background because I find myself applying these skills in parenting.

I have found myself using play therapy skills with my son lately — namely, tracking his play, reflecting his feelings, and allowing him to master new skills.

1. Tracking Play

Watch your child during some of their play and track their activities, facial expressions, and intentions. I recommend giving this your undivided attention for at least ten minutes. This can be done anywhere and with any kind of play. When you track their play, describe (out loud so they can hear) what you see.

This activity is good for several reasons:

  • Your child is receiving undivided, quality attention.
  • Your child is learning words for their actions and feelings.
  • You, the parent, will learn more about how your child plays and maybe why they are performing those activities.

Example: As my toddler played in the tub the other night, he was filling various toys and dumping the water out into a basket on the side of the tub. As I verbally tracked his play, I sounded something like this: “I see you’re filling the fish toy this time. Oh, you laughed when that one filled up! You are going back to the red toy and now back to the fish toy. It seems you are comparing these two toys.”

What I learned: As I tracked my son’s play, I noticed he became even more engaged and enjoyed the attention. I also learned that he was not just pouring water out or sinking his toys under water. He was experimenting! He wanted to see which toys held more water and how the weight felt different. He was learning how much water can go into each toy and then what happened when he poured the water out. He was also comparing the toys. It was a special experience for me to enter his world in this way. I do it all the time in play therapy, why not with my own kids?

2. Following Their Lead

When I say “follow the child’s lead” I mean the parent should not lead the play. Allow the child to decide what to play and how to play with a toy. They may decide that the kitchen set you bought for them is now going to be used as a lab or that you will be the child and they will be the parent. Allow your child to be creative. I still show my toddler how to play with certain toys or name toys for him, but sometimes I allow him to choose how he will play.

Why is this important?

  • Letting them lead encourages creativity and experimentation in play.
  • It gives them a feeling of having control. Our kids are not in control of much in their little lives. Why not let them have some control in their play?
  • Creative minds are successful minds.

3. Reflecting Feeling

This is a simple but powerful tool to use with your kids. First of all, notice how your child is feeling — happy sad, frustrated, jealous, angry — and tell them what you notice. Say, “I see you are feeling angry” or “You seem to be jealous that your brother got a sticker and you didn’t.”

Reflecting feelings is good for many reasons:

  • Reflecting helps your child learn words for their feelings, even the complicated ones like jealousy and frustration.
  • Reflecting shows your child you are paying attention to them.
  • Reflecting models the first part of active listening, an important tool in communication.

4. Allowing Mastery of Skills

In play therapy, I typically wait for a child to ask me for help when they are trying to master a skill or have difficulty with a task. Once they ask, I then offer to help but I don’t do it for them.

It’s so easy to insist on doing everything for our kids, especially when we are in a hurry. Right now, my toddler is learning how to put on socks and shoes. This means that he wants to practice every morning, no matter how late I am running. If I want him to learn these skills and build his self-esteem, I will need to make time to allow him to practice.

Why is this so important?

  • It sends a message that you are confident in their abilities and supportive of their learning new skills.
  • It helps build self-esteem.
  • Giving them time to ask for help teaches them to let you know when they need you rather than assuming you will always be able to read their minds. (Trust me, you will never be able to read their minds when they are teenagers.)

I just love being a part of a child’s world, especially when that child is my own!

Originally posted 2012-11-30 12:24:41.

  • Howdy! This article couldn’t be written much better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I’ll forward this information to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a great read. Many thanks
    for sharing!

  • Kim, I love all these tips. It’s one of those things that I think I do from time to time, but serves as a good reminder to focus on one. For instance, tracking his play. I know I do that but maybe not as much as I should, or I can make that my focus for the day. Then tomorrow I can follow tip number 4—helping only when asked, etc. Thanks for this useful article!

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  • Hi Kim,
    I was going to write something similar to this on my blog. This is great summarization of play therapy! Also could be used to educate parents. With your permission, I’d like to repost this on my blog. I will have the link to your blog. This is a good information for parents to understand what we do as play therapists other than just “play”. Please let me know.

    • Hi Daisy and thanks for the comment! Feel free to repost. I love to know this is educating people on play therapy! Please give me the link to your blog so I can follow! 🙂

      • Thank you very much, Kim! No.. the blog is not up and running yet. I’ only beginning to write some and compiling things. I will definitely let you know when it’s up and running. For now, please visit my facebook page and follow me there if you would like to. It’s at http://www.facebook.com/DaisyVergaraCounseling

        Thank you kindly.

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