Play is the way children explore, experience and express whatever it is they need for growth, development and healing.
The first part of our work as child therapists is to help parents understand the POWER of play for children.
The second and equally important step is helping parents understand how important the connection they have with their children is and facilitating therapeutic experiences that enhances and strengthens the bond between a parent and a child.
Playful connections between parents and children helps children to include parents in their natural way of exploring, experiencing and expressing. Play is the BEST way for a parent and child to develop and enhance secure attachment.
Here are 3 playful ways to help parents and children to connect…
#1 Puppet making and play
Puppets of all kinds are a natural way for children to project thoughts and feelings they may be having as well as a way to try out different roles and voices in order to develop greater self awareness and empathy. It’s also a perfect way to engage a parent and child in connecting and exploring together.
Stock your play room with a wide variety of puppets in order to facilitate puppet play in parent-child dyadic sessions. Of course, there are all the colorful, fun puppets you can purchase online (take a look at The Puppet Store or the collection here at Play Therapy Supplies)
You can also make puppets yourself for your own collection and then teach parents and children how to do so. Here is one of my favorite tutorial videos for how to make a sock puppet!
Simple puppets can be made out of wooden spoons, plastic spoons, toilet paper rolls, and other every day items. Here is a short video that shows how!
Utilizing puppets allows for the power of story-telling to take place with and between children and parents which is a powerful modality that facilitates deeper connections. You might consider enrolling in Dr. Janet Courtney’s course FirstPlay Kinesthetic Storytelling
Engaging parents in the process of puppet play and puppet-making can be a very effective way of helping parents transcend resistance they may initially feel to the idea of playing.
#2 Sensory exploratory play
There are so many ways to engage parents and children in playful activities that will facilitate exploratory fun and connection. Here are some creative ideas and resources I’ve used to help parents and children to connect.
An easy way to make play snow is to simply combine baking soda and white hair conditioner in a big bowl. Put the ingredients in the fridge before session to make it feel chilly like real snow. Your child and parent dyad can be invited to explore the texture and create a world in the snow together. Here is a short tutorial video.
Create a safari table or tray to include animal figures, textures that might include rice and dried lentils, items to represent trees and add a small shallow tray for water. You can model for the parent how to track and reflect as the child leads the imaginative, exploratory play in the tray. (here’s a video to give you a visual idea for this).
On a warm day, if you have outdoor space, you might take a child and parent outside for water balloon games. Prepare the parent for a potentially wet, fun activity in advance of course. Encourage the child and parent to explore the weight, the texture, the feel of the water filled balloons. Invite them to toss a water balloon back and forth. (Be sure the child understands the balloons sometimes break and water comes out and they may get wet so they are not unpleasantly surprised!)
With a large tarp on your play room floor you might invite the child and parent to empty several unscented shaving cream cans onto the tarp and play with spreading the foam. You might introduce large spatulas, spoons and other objects and encourage the child and parent to engage in free play with the foam. Shaving cream washes off readily! Here is a video for some other ideas for shaving cream play.
Offer a variety of sensory tubs with various sizes of dried beans, peas, rice, sand along with scoops, funnels, spoons and containers. This video shows you how to make easy, inexpensive sensory tubs and tables.
Once parents have the experience of exploratory sensory play in your therapy room, it will easier for them to set up a play station at home to connect and engage with their children.
#3 Crayons, markers and paint, oh my!
I like to use large paper or poster board with parents and children to encourage and invite imaginative creation using a variety of items to include crayons, markers, colored pencils, paint, glue, construction paper, yarn, googly eyes, feathers, sequins, buttons and more. I collect paper towel rolls and empty tissue boxes, oatmeal containers and egg cartons.
Having a wide variety of items and supplies for creative expression encourages children and parents to collaborate creatively which can be incredible healing, enhancing the bond.
You can provide some directive as to what you would like for the parent and child to create or you might just invite them to decide together what they would like to make. As with the sensory play and the puppets, after experiencing these activities in the therapy room you will find it much easier to have parents and children create expressively at home together.