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Why Play?

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

May 28th is World Play Day, founded by Dr. Freda Kim, at the International Toy Library Association’s annual conference in 1999. Its purpose is to “defend the children’s right to play and emphasize the importance of play for all.”

Here is their website if you’d like to read more:

Play can be defined as many things, but this blog post will focus on the main aspect of play:

Something people do for enjoyment rather than productivity

The act of playing can relieve stress, help teach new skills, promote empathy for others, practice for different situations, and increase imagination and creative thinking skills, among other benefits. For younger kids especially, play helps give them a framework and structure to learn more about the world and all the aspects of being human.

Play can also be a very beneficial part of the therapy process for children and adolescents. In fact, most of the time, I receive more information about the child or teen’s life by how they play, the choices they make, the items they use, and the story themes they consistently tell. This insight helps me develop treatment plans, offer in game strategies, and teach skills that go beyond the therapy session. As primarily a child and adolescent therapist, my office is filled with color, toys, games, and art supplies.

Here are a few of the strategies I regularly use in sessions, especially with kids who might be resistant about talking to someone or have a hard time opening up.

  • Linking emotions with colors in games such as Candyland, Jenga, and Uno

    • Something that makes you sad for blue, something that makes you happy for yellow, etc.

  • Drawing the Anxiety/Depression Monster

    • To help the child feel they have power over their emotions.

  • Dolls or the dollhouse

    • Role playing a situation or practicing solutions to a situation.

  • Slime or clay

    • Emotional regulation tools

  • Bibliotherapy

    • Reading books about emotions, divorce, or other situations to help normalize emotions and teach coping skills.

  • Sandtray

    • A specialized technique to help clients tell their story in a tangible way and as a way to access emotions kids may not have the words for. Also for relaxation and regulation in session.

  • Therapeutic Tabletop Role Play Games

    • Practicing skills and building confidence for everyday life through interactive storytelling.

  • Doodling, making crafts, and making art

    • Helpful for emotional regulation, expression of emotions or feelings, working out possible solutions.

  • Board and card games

    • Modeling turn taking, good sportsmanship, following rules, etc.

So you see, play can be extremely affirming and helpful, even if it just feels like play to the child or teen! This is part of the reason it's so effective in helping children learn.

But what about play for adults? I encourage my adults to use the fidgets, sandtray, or drawing supplies as they feel drawn to them and am always thrilled when they take me up on the offer.

Unfortunately, play isn’t something that comes naturally to us after a certain age. Instead we tend to start thinking that having fun or play is something that we must be productive to earn, but it should really be embraced as a daily need! Play gives our adult brains a chance to wind down, work out problems, recharge, and become more creative.

Here are some resources from the National Institute of Play on the importance of play for adults, as well as how to develop play habits, and other important research.

For adults, play may look a little different. Maybe it’s video games, building the Lego Titanic, sewing, playing in a community sports league, making art, hiking, being in a D&D group, going to a yoga class, building a fantasy sports team, playing music, or reading.

Engaging in play with your children can also help build bonds with them, provide solutions for problems, and can be an opportunity to model appropriate behaviors. It’s also just fun!

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and PLAY!

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