By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Are you frustrated by your child’s frequent tantrums? Is he or she defiant, and often refuses to listen? Are you overwhelmed as a parent and have given up hope that anything will help? Did you ever wonder how to reduce tantrums using Play Therapy? Child-Centered Play Therapy has proven remarkably effective at resolving these issues! 80 percent of these children I see experience significant reduction in tantrums and defiance after just 2-5 months of treatment! Together with Parenting Counseling, it is doubly effective. How does it work?
In order to learn how to reduce tantrums, we need to understand where tantrums and defiance come from!
I have found in my clinical experience, that most often they are fueled by the child’s feeling of a lack of self-determination. Self-determination is that great, golden goal that everyone seeks and needs, and children are no exception. They need to feel to a certain extent in control of their own lives. However very often they are experiencing just a little bit less of it than they need, and frustration and resentment builds up, exploding into tantrums and defiance. Let’s take school. There they are constantly told what to do. Schools are very strict and structured nowadays, and there is zero tolerance for flexibility with the rules. Children would really appreciate a more free, individually determined program, but instead they must constantly force themselves to do the opposite of what they want to comply with the rules, and this damages their sense of self-determination. In addition, they are way overburdened with homework. Often at home they are constantly told what to do as well, as most parents nowadays tend to adhere to a slightly stricter than necessary parenting approach.
This causes the child to feel very much bossed around,
and that is the essence of the problem! Would you like it if your boss gave you a gruff order every 5 minutes? Children are no different, and if they are told what to do just a little bit too often, resentment and opposition will build up generating tantrums and defiance.
Furthermore, many children are under the tremendous stress of the separation of their parents, or conflict between them. This represents the ultimate in not getting what you want, as it is every child’s greatest desire that his parents live together in harmony. Therefore, conflict between parents greatly reduces their feeling of self-determination further.
The magic of Play Therapy!
Child-Centered Play Therapy is the magic bullet that turns all this around. In the Playroom, I don’t tell the child what to do at all. He or she completely controls all the action, and I follow him, celebrating, validating and honoring every decision that he makes. This support from a kind, generous adult gives the child an exhilarating sense of control over his or her own life! He feels that he is the complete boss of his very own institution, his weekly Play Therapy session. I use the amazing Play Therapy technique called tracking where, similar to a sportscaster describing a game, I reflect back to the child verbally each action taken, feeling expressed and decision made. For example, when a child decides to pick up a toy and examine it to consider playing with it, this is an important accomplishment in his world. He is establishing temporary ownership of that toy and realizing his desire to manipulate it in a meaningful and important way. Therefore when he does so I celebrate it with him by reflecting, “Oh, you got that!” This simple, emotionally charged statement give him a tremendous sense of the value of his great accomplishment of realizing and respecting his own desires. We must remember that desires are closely related to feelings, and by my supporting his honoring of his desires, he learns to honor his feelings as well. In addition, I reflect back any feelings expressed in play such as, “Oh, that makes you happy,” or “Oh, you’re feeling frustrated,” or “Now you’re feeling angry!”
Honoring one’s own desires and feelings is one of the key aspects of self-determination!
In addition, when he or she makes a decision I reflect and celebrate that accomplishment, “Oh, you don’t want to do that anymore, you’ve decided you want to blow up balloons now!” and he learns he can make his own decisions and control his own life, leading to more self-determination.
I don’t praise the child, because that would make him dependent on others, however I help the child to himself conclude that all of his chosen activities are important, meaningful, and deserve honor and respect. This tremendously raises his self-esteem and self-confidence.
All this makes the child feel so good about himself that he doesn’t mind so much listening to his parents’ directions outside of the session! His greatly increased sense of self-determination creates a reservoir of which fortifies him and helps him tolerate patiently all the inevitable times that he won’t be able to get everything he wants, and therefore it reduces tantrums and defiance! The child is getting his emotional needs met so generously in the playroom, that when his parents can’t fulfill a particular need for some reason, he has a great reserve to fall back on and tantrums become completely unnecessary!
Simply put, when the child gets his way reliably every week in the playroom, he no longer feels the need to demand his way so much outside!
In addition, I take a very non-critical, accepting, non-evaluative, non-judgemental attitude towards the child. This provides a powerful model for him and he learns great self-acceptance and a very generous kind way of relating towards himself, which is one of the pillars of mental health, and it makes him a much more agreeable child to deal with. Once I had a 4 year old girl who was in the car on the way to her fifth session, and she began to misbehave a bit in the back seat. Her mother said, “Hey, you better behave, or I’m going to tell Joseph!” She responded, “Oh, Joseph, don’t worry about him, he likes me!” She was used to getting treated with so much respect that she learned to feel great about herself as well!
The great thing about Play Therapy is how quickly it works, especially together with Parenting Counseling. Therapy for adults and teens can take years, but with children, you will likely see improvement in a few weeks to a few months!
Feel free to peruse my interesting blog, download one of my free reports, or view my video. If you are wondering how to reduce tantrums using Play Therapy, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute phone consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!