When children exhibit aggression in the play room it can cause therapists to feel uneasy if there is not an understanding of the reasons for the behavior. Without awareness, ability to conceptualize and have the right resources available, therapists might end up setting limits while missing an opportunity for other therapeutic options.
We are trained to understand that the playroom is a safe place for a child to be able to explore and express whatever she may feel the need to explore and express in ways she may not be permitted to at school or at home. When a child acts out aggression in the play room it’s up to us to help facilitate a safe means of exploring and expressing whatever may be behind and underneath that aggression.
First and foremost, we want to help children to be and feel safe in the playroom. When emotion dysregulation is persistent and pervasive, it will be appropriate to use facilitative play therapy interventions to support the child in experiencing new ways of expressing that are not destructive to self and others while also learning self soothing skills. But sometimes a child’s aggression acted out in the play room is an essential part of her healing process and it is up to us to provide the safe container without shutting down the child’s emotional healing process.
Here are some resources to support your process of better understanding aggression in the play room and to support interventions that can assist in facilitating the need for aggressive play.
1. First, I highly recommend you read Drs. David Crenshaw’s and John Mordock’s book A Handbook of Play Therapy with Aggressive Children . This is rich with background, resources including the therapeutic alliance, aims of play therapy with aggressive children, when it is time for setting limits on destructive and obtrusive behaviors, typical play themes of aggressive children you may observe.
2. Having a quality bop bag in the play room is something I do recommend. And having had many bags pop over the years I eventually invested in the best bog bag there is. Brandy’s Bag of Air is high quality and comes with a year guarantee. Use my coupon code to get $5 off. Coupon code: lynnfb
3. According to Garry Landreth, PhD, “Toys should be selected not collected,” all having a purpose. He recommends having a grouping of aggressive toys which allow for the release of emotions that are typically not allowed to be expressed in other settings and includes a bop bag as mentioned above, toy soldiers, rubber knives, and toy guns (that purposely do not look realistic). In this age of debate around the danger of guns, it is understandable that many therapists prefer not to have any sort of gun in the play room. It is important, however, to consider if some children may need those items to play through some trauma they have experienced.
4. It’s also a good idea to have egg cartons for stomping, an old phone book or magazines that can be torn and Popsicle sticks that can be broken. This allows the therapist to redirect a child’s destructive behavior to items that can be destroyed.
Lastly, I recommend therapists seek supervision and sometimes even go to their own therapy to process countertransference that may arise with children who exhibit aggression in the play room. We are at high risk of compassion fatigue if we don’t attend to our own self-care and increase our awareness of how aggression may trigger our own person-of-the-therapist tendencies, fears or issues otherwise.