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Children’s Play Therapy

Innovative Approaches to Children's Play Therapy

When I became a therapist, most of my work was for children between 4-18 years old. I quickly learned that therapeutic play is hugely successful in helping children learn and process therapeutic skills and build their emotional intelligence. I use play to connect, build rapport with a child, and work through social and emotional problems. You will also find that this approach is beneficial in children who are diagnosed with ADHD and Autism because it is interactive and promotes social and emotional learning. Play therapy is integrated into treatment in several ways, including tabletop and card games. I often include parents when using play therapy, either by including them in the game or suggesting games that continue to build skills while having fun at home. The bonus to incorporating gameplay at home is that it also increases positive communication. Through research, we know a direct correlation between interaction and communication. The more we engage in positive interaction, the more we see positive communication integrated into the family system.

Therapist And Child Using Play Therapy

Games promoting social skills and emotional intelligence in small and young children:

The Color Monster: This game is a great way to learn and practice emotional intelligence in small children and is a way for children to integrate themes from the book The Color Monster. Children are introduced to ‘Color Monster’ and learn how to sort Color Monster’s feelings into the correct jars, helping them discuss foundational emotions (Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, or Calm).

Feed the Woozle, Race to the Treasure, and Hoot Owl Hoot: I highly suggest any games by Peaceable Kingdom because their specialty is collaborative games. Collaborative games teach children social skills, including working as a group. You work together to complete the steps to win the game. This game allows children to process winning or losing healthily and helpfully, making for a great family game night! 

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Games promoting impulse and body control, problem-solving, and strategy in elementary children and adolescents:

Strategic Card Games: I frequently use strategic card games during play therapy sessions. This game helps teach problem-solving and strategy, building skills in impulse and body control, thinking ahead, and multi-step directions. I highly recommend Pokemon Battle Academy for learning how to play Pokemon, as it provides decks of cards and step-by-step directions for playing the game. For older children and adolescents, I use Magic: the Gathering, a favorite game among nerd-at-heart parents and adults. Decks for the games are very accessible, and groups will often meet in local game stores 2-4 times a month. Don’t forget clubs at school, too!

Labyrinth: A Ravensburger game known for its moving maze, Labyrinth is a game I use frequently in sessions. The game aims to manipulate the maze by strategic moves that create open paths to the treasures. The game assists with processing change and transitions and problem-solving because the maze constantly changes. This game is easily a favorite amongst my adolescents. 

Blokus: This Tetris-like game is excellent for building distress tolerance (patience and managing frustration) and problem-solving. Depending on the number of players, there are a few different methods of play that allow the child to learn and integrate problem-solving skills. 

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Family Interaction Games

Games like Hoopla, Apples to Apples, Cadoo, and Hullabaloo encourage families to interact and work on their communication. Also, it makes learning and playing fun and allows you to build family interaction skills. 

This is an excellent start to encouraging more play and building social and emotional skills at home. You will also find that children value spending time together, creating a healthy environment for openness. I recommend heading to a local game store and exploring the different types of games that you can incorporate at home. Local game stores are also helpful because they know about games specific to certain skills and ages. 

Contact Kristen

Kristen Holmes, MS, LPC

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Kristen Holmes, MS, LPC

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4530 N Oakland Ave
Whitefish Bay, WI 53211

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