By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
While we do not allow all behaviors in children, we should allow and accept all feelings. Feelings are automatic and natural and not a product of conscious choice, so letting them flow is necessary for a child’s emotional development. However, when children express strong or negative feelings and desires, they are often met with disapproval by their parents or other adults. If he or she says, “I hate my brother!” the parent may respond, “Don’t say that! You really love him.” This teaches the child that his feelings are unacceptable and must be repressed. If a child tells a teacher, “I don’t like this assignment, I don’t want to do it!” the teacher, instead of responding, “I see you are unhappy with it, thanks for letting me know,” is more likely respond with a reprimand, thus causing the child to believe that her feelings about the assignment are not valid, and that it was wrong for her to even have them. In this way he learns to automatically repress his feelings in the future.
Desires are Like Feelings.
Desires also involve feelings. When a child expresses a desire that can’t be fulfilled, it is better for us to first validate, recognize and accept the desire in itself, and then gently say no. “Oh, you would really like that chocolate before dinner, I wish I could give it to you right now.” But when the child is met with only a plain “No”, she or he feels we are disapproving of the feelings behind the desire, and begins to think, “My needs, desires and feelings are not legitimate,” and he learns to repress them. This habit of blocking feelings can unfortunately lead to emotional issues such as low self-esteem, depression, sadness, anger, anxiety, tantrums and other behavior problems, as well as a general low sense of well-being.
The Benefits Of Play Therapy
Child-Centered Play Therapy is extremely effective, even indispensable in resolving these issues. In the playroom I show the child that all his feelings, needs and desires, even negative ones, are valid, legitimate and acceptable. In addition, I reflect these expressions back to the child so that he or she gains conscious awareness of his emotional life. That is, not only does he learn that his feelings are Ok, but he gets an understanding of the depth and detail of them. He gets into the habit of letting his feelings flow, he becomes comfortable with the emotional events in his life. This is accomplished through the play therapy technique called tracking. Similar to a sportscaster describing a game, I describe back to the child each action he makes in play, each decision taken and each feeling and desire expressed. “Oh, so you’ve decided to blow up some balloons,” or “You really want to get it within the lines,” or “It can be frustrating when it doesn’t work” or “That makes you angry” or, “You got it in, that makes you happy.” I let the child totally direct the play, showing great respect for his or her every desire and the feelings behind them. I pay so much attention to every detail of the child’s experience, that he learns that his emotions are of supreme importance, and letting them flow and gaining awareness of them resolves many emotional and behavioral issues.
A further benefit of Play Therapy is that when a child gets used to this one adult accepting his emotions, he begins to feel more comfortable expressing them to the other adults in his life.
Self-Determination In School And At Home
Another issue is that children often lack a sense of control over their lives. At school as well as at home they are constantly told what to do. Their sense of self-determination is not realized. Although some impulses in children need to be limited, a certain portion need to be allowed, recognized and validated for the benefit of their emotional health. However their impulses are often overly limited and blocked, and they become repressed, generating emotional problems.
Self-Control And Play Therapy
But in the playroom they are allowed to realize 99 percent of their impulses, and those impulses are given great respect and importance. They make all of their own decisions, and I give respect and importance to those, decisions, so the child learns, “I can make good decisions,” “I can control myself,” and “I can control my life.” Over time this resolves the problem.
It truly seems like magic how well play therapy works to improve the child’s emotional health, behavior and overall well-being! But the truth is it is there is no magic, just pure, solid science and proven results. The vast majority of parents who come into my office report improvement in their children in just 3 to 9 months of play therapy together with Parenting Counseling
Feel free to peruse the rest of my informative blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my interesting free reports. If you feel your child has emotional issues and would like him or her to experience the benefits of Play Therapy with a child psychotherapist right here in lower Manhattan, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!