Play Therapy

Ideas from Kid Power

For Helping Children Cope with Distressing World Events

It is normal for both adults and children to be upset and to show feelings about war, terrorism, and any event that is perceived as traumatic. Each person may react differently, even from within the same family. Here are some ways to help yourself and your children cope with distressing and difficult times:
1. TURN OFF the TV and limit your talk about the event in front of your children. Try to gather information when they are not there. Controlling your impulse to stay glued to the TV will also help you maintain your own calm.

2. If a child wishes to talk about what has happened, give them your full attention (get down to their level and drop everything else you are doing) and listen carefully. Show them you understand how scary this is for them. Then keep listening – once the child sees you understand, they may have more to say.

3. Help the child draw pictures about what they wish would happen. This can be a wonderful way for a child to imagine satisfying endings, such as pictures of the “bad guys” in jail, someone coming to the rescue, or the sun and rainbow coming out to heal the terrible situations

4. Older children can write letters to families of any victims to express their sorrow, and younger children can draw pictures or dictate letters.

5. Make sure you and your children get plenty of activity and exercise and eat healthfully to lower your stress level and maintain your strength.

6. Give lots of extra nurture as in cuddling, rocking, holding, etc. Your child may need to temporarily sleep with you or in your room if fears are excessive.

7. Assure your child that you and the other adults in their life are going to keep them safe.

8. Continue to include some entertainment in your family’s life. Do not let distressing events give your children the sense that the world can no longer be safe or fun.

9. Recognize that you, your children, and others of your acquaintance may have many strong feelings about such events and that all those feelings are natural and okay.

10. Stay connected to your adult sources of support and use them instead of your children for in depth discussion of your own fears.

11. If your family has a religious faith, take solace in that and pray with your children about the events.

12. Do nurturing things for yourself such as playing music, taking a walk in nature, and praying or meditating

13. If you feel so motivated and the event offers opportunity, do something to help such as donating blood, writing letters to those directly affected, writing letters expressing your viewpoint to politicians, and monetarily supporting groups that will be involved in the aftermath such as the Red Cross. Let your children know what you are personally doing to help.


When does a child need therapy?

I do not view a child’s behavior, displeasing as it may sometimes be, as sickness. I view it as the child’s evidence of strength and survival.
Violet Oaklander

Although many childhood upsets are healed without the intervention of therapy, play therapy offers children a natural, safe, and non intrusive method to hasten recovery from common distressing events as well as major traumas. Parents sometimes believe that seeking therapy for their child would indicate parental failure.¬†Although some children have been traumatized by events within the control of parents, many youngsters can benefit from play therapy who experienced situations over which their parents had no control, or were compelled to initiate for the child’s benefit, such as medical procedures. Additionally, many children who have experienced no trauma of which their parents are aware can dramatically enhance their selfesteem through play therapy. In any case, obtaining the benefits of play therapy for a child is an indication of deep love and concern rather than failure.

Indications that a child may benefit from Play Therapy include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive anger, worry, sadness, or fear
  • Behavior which is immature for the child’s age
  • Failure to learn or other school problems
  • Behavior which interferes with making friends
  • Problems with eating, sleep, or elimination
  • Preoccupation with sexual behavior
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches which have no medical cause
  • Difficulty adjusting to family changes
  • Talking about not wanting to live
  • Excessive shyness
  • Experiencing trauma such as:
    • Chronic illness
    • Illness or injury of a family member
    • Divorce or separation of parents
    • Death of a close family member or friend
    • Disasters such as accidents, fires, or flooding
    • Hospitalization
    • Birth Trauma
    • Painful or frightening medical procedures
    • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
    • Witness to domestic violence
    • Witness to abuse of other children


Parent Activities to Encourage Attachment And Support Play Therapy

1. Play baby games such as Peek-a-Boo, Hide and Seek, Patty-Cake, and This Little Piggy Went to Market. Include lots of gentle touch, such as a big hug and role on the floor when you find your hiding child. No tickling.

2. Get in rhythm with your child by using any song or rhyme paired with rocking, bouncing, clapping. Substitute child’s name in songs and rhymes whenever possible.

3. Play slippery hand games with lotion and hand massage. Stack hands alternating with your child and pull out the bottom one to put on top.

4. Child runs back and forth between two adults with hugs and kisses when arriving each time.

5. Snuggle while reading bedtime stories.

6. Rock and sing lullabies while cradling child.

7. Gentle back, shoulder, and neck rub.

8. Foot massage with or without lotion.

9. Feed your child or take turns with them feeding you.

10. Brush their hair gently (no tangles).

11. Snuggle next to them in bed at bedtime and tell each other the best and worst things that happened that day.

12. Tell your child the wonderful story of their birth or arrival in your family.

13. Cradle your child’s face in your hands and tell how much you treasure them.

14. Spend extra time and kisses tucking your child in at night, especially on days when there has been conflict.


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