Connecting With Your Child Through Play: An Introduction to Filial Therapy

One of the most important things we can do as parents is connect with our children. There are many ways to accomplish this, including regular communication, spending time together, and teaching them new things. Entering their world of play is also an effective way to connect with your child. As a play therapist, one of the tools I use to help the child and their family is something we call filial therapy.

Through filial therapy, I am basically teaching parents some basic tools and skills I use in play therapy to carry over into the home.

The purpose of filial therapy is to create, maintain, or improve the bond between parent and child. If you have not had the opportunity to enter into your child’s (or any child’s) world of play, you are in for a treat! I am going to talk about getting down on their level, reflecting what you see and hear, and interacting in a totally new way with your child. In addition, this one-on-one time with your child may also help to improve attention-seeking behaviors and separation anxiety by giving them positive attention they need and desire.

This is different from play therapy, because there is no interpretation, no evaluation, and no thinking hat required. You are simply being asked to offer your child a special time to play with special toys and a special person (you!).

Why Filial Therapy Works

(Adapted from worksheet by Emily Oe, Ph.D.)

  • The focus is on the parent(s) and the child.
  • The play time gives the parent(s) a different focus by taking them out of the critical role of teaching and correcting.
  • It places the parent(s) in a situation where they can be more objective with their child. They learn something new about their child and develop more realistic expectations.
  • It lessons or removes the stigma of failure (mistakes can be redeemed). The focus is on the future: what they can do rather than past behaviors/problems.
  • It changes parents’ expectations of themselves.
  • The child begins to see their parents differently — as allies on their side.
  • It is a self-correcting means of learning within a moving process.

Benefits to Parents

  • The time with the child is scheduled and uninterrupted.
  • It is an oasis pull-aside, time-relaxing — no entertaining.
  • There is less pressure to teach, to do right, to be on the spot.
  • Parental self-confidence is increased.
  • They feel more in control.
  • They are more accepting of themselves and their children.
  • They have less guilt.

What We Will Be Learning (Upcoming Posts)

  • Who, When, and Where: Getting ready.
  • Tools of The Trade: Toys recommended just for this special playtime.
  • Play Therapy Skills: basic skills to use during playtime with your kids.
  • Special Scenarios: Setting limits and FAQs.

If you are a parent of a child who is eight years old or younger, this is a great activity for you to engage in with your child or children! If you are a therapist who works with children and families, filial therapy can be an excellent therapeutic tool to use in conjunction with your regular therapy interventions. I can’t wait to get started!