helping tweensPlay therapy is an effective way in helping tweens through the struggles of transitioning from childhood to adolescence.  Although there are different schools of thought, for the purposes of this article, we will consider tweens to be ages 10-12 (give or take a year on each end).

During the “tweenage” years, our clients are rapidly changing.  They are physically developing with the onset of puberty, increasing their brain development (resulting in more abstract thinking), and they are developing socially.

In my 2 hour APT and NBCC approved play therapy training called Play Therapy with Tween Girls (10-12), you will find a treasure trove of valuable interventions gathered from many years of my own experience helping tween girls. In this article, I will give you a sneak peek into what you will learn in that workshop.

Tween girls are often:

  • Easily embarrassed
  • Emotional
  • Stressed
  • Frustrated quickly
  • Changing rapidly
  • Discovering who they are in relationship to peers
  • Confused between being a little girl and a young woman

Helping tweens means understanding their stage of development. Tweens straddle operational and formal operational stages of development.

During Piaget’s Concrete Operational Stage (ages 7-11), children:

  • Gain a better understanding of mental operations;
  • Begin thinking logically about concrete events but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts; and
  • Understand time, space, and quantity, but cannot apply them as independent concepts.

During Piaget’s Formal Operational Stage of Development (ages 11/2 into adulthood), people:

  • Become more sophisticated and advanced in their thinking;
  • Develop theoretical, abstract, and hypothetical thinking; and
  • Can apply concepts learned from one context to another.
Child-centered play therapy with tween girls can be very effective and should be the foundation of all and any play therapy provided.

Child-centered play therapy is the foundation of all play therapy. We must allow tweens to explore, express, and experience her feelings, perceptions and thoughts through her play in order to see and better understand what she is experiencing. This allows us to share in her experience and build essential rapport through tracking, reflecting, and holding space in a child-centered way.

Once we have built essential rapport through tracking, reflecting and holding space; observed a tween’s free play; and considered her developmental level and any history of trauma, it is often appropriate to bridge into facilitative and directive play therapy techniques. The purpose of facilitative interventions is:
  • Assessment
  • Rapport building and maintenance
  • Exploration and expression of inner world and emotions
  • Psychoeducation and skill building
  • Empowerment/ mastery

Here is a sneak peek at a few of the interventions I share in my 2 hour recorded training that will help you develop a wide variety of techniques for helping tweens using play therapy:

3 examples of Facilitative Play Therapy Interventions for Helping Tweens:

Sandtray Therapy

  • When using sandtray therapy, the therapist does not interpret, interfere with, or direct the client’s experience with the sand tray.  Rather, they provide a supportive presence and assist the tween as they explore and express their inner world.

Create personal mandalas

  • Tween girls often love mandalas! The mandala is widely recognized as a meaningful reflection of its creator.
  • Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it “a representation of the unconscious mind.”
  • Mandalas can be self-soothing or a powerful tool for containing negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, or anger.
  • Tweens can create multiple mandalas throughout the course of therapy to see her journey over time.

Roller coaster of events and emotions

  • 3-D version: cut strips of paper, and the tween can decide which events were low or high points in her life. She can tape or glue the strips to represent the course of her life.
  • 2-D version: this can be drawn on a piece of paper like a rollercoaster.  This helps tweens have a concept of the ups and downs in life and “make friends” with her different emotions.

Want to learn more about the brain, social, emotional, psychological, and physical developmental stages of tweens? PLUS more interventions for helping tweens through play therapy, AND how to create treatment plans with this age group?  Get more information here. 

Below are trainings and articles I’ve written previously that may be of interest to anyone working with tweens and/or teens:

Need consultation or coaching on how to work with tweens? I offer both contact and non-contact play therapy training as well as consultation for therapists and coaching for parents. Contact me here to schedule a consultation.