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Erik Erikson, an expert in human growth and development, defines play as a “situation in which a child can work through experiences by creating model situations and master reality through planning and experimentation.” Play is a natural part of childhood and acts as a vital role in a child’s social and emotional development. Play therapy, also referred to as imaginative play therapy, is defined as the “systematic use of a theoretical model that establishes an interpersonal process, in which trained therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” The American Academy of Pediatrics underscores the power of play in early childhood and highlights some of the ways play and play-based therapy can support various aspects of child development, such as: 

  • Sparks imagination and creativity: Play therapy fosters creativity by providing a safe space for children to have the autonomy to act out scenarios of their choosing and engage in symbolic play. Symbolic play, or the ability to imagine one object as another, is an important part of healthy development. 
  • Improves literacy: Play supports language development by encouraging children to decipher meaning to as well as listen to and observe verbal cues from others. Play therapy provides a safe platform for children to practice their language skills, build upon their expanding vocabulary, and refine their speech sounds through listening to others.
  • Builds motor skill competence: In mastering fine and gross motor skills, children develop the confidence needed to engage in more active play, which lays the foundation for preferences of physical activity.
  • Enhances social and emotional development: Through play, children learn to follow norms and how to cultivate empathy and respect for the thoughts and feelings of others. It hones social skills such as listening to directions, paying attention, resolving conflict, and negotiating relationships.
  • Fosters cognitive growth: Play strengthens the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which increases executive functioning (e.g., working memory, flexible thinking, self-regulation, etc.), promotes skills, such as intrinsic motivation, and greatly contributes to personality development. These skills are used by children to learn, solve problems, follow directions, and pay attention. Play also supports early math skills such as spatial concepts.

Play therapy provides a safe and supportive environment that promotes emotional expression. This not only affords a child with the freedom of independence and self-control, which boosts self-esteem, but also supports their overall mental health and emotional well-being.

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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