Watching your child at play can give you insights into their world and who they are becoming. First, it is essential to always have in mind the child’s age and current situation. For example, a child with attention problems who builds a war scene could be playing out conflicts in the sand. In this case, it could be that life is a struggle dealing with controlling their impulses. They may want to be stopped and taken down, or they may prefer to take others down who make them feel inferior or make fun of them. In play what is played out can be very instinctual and the child may not always be fully aware of his or her unconscious intentions or desires.
In play, children may be doing what they are looking for or be expressing where they need to grow, or they may be doing the opposite to compensate for what they feel they lack. For instance, a shy and reserved child may play dress-up and pretend to be performing onstage.
In a child’s play you can observe how they solve problems and how they deal with frustration. Are they rigid and only use one option and then give up, or do they attempt various ways to solve a problem.
You may discover your child’s particular talents, and how varied and expansive their imagination can be. What do they usually gravitate towards when they have free time? Is it an art or physical movement? Is it approval from others or solitude? Does their play suggest frustration and struggle or expansion and creativity?
You can observe their growing confidence when they achieve mastery or success doing something and you can observe how they handle and cope with frustration and failure.
A useful way to approach looking at your child’s play is by asking yourself what message he or she is communicating at the time. Are they showing timidity or fear in how they play or are they showing aggression and a need for power? The latter may be simply a need to feel more in control in their life. Developmentally play can be a very appropriate and healthy way to experience and work through such struggles.
In summary, watching your child play with an open mind and keen eye can teach you a lot about who they are and who they are becoming. How they approach play and how well they can relax and abandon themselves in play can tell you how they approach life and its many trials and strugglesWhen a child is struggling with handicaps like ADHD or a Learning Disability, or serious life stressors, Play Therapy with a trained professional can play a crucial role in helping a child work through their conflicts and frustrations and find their inner strengths so they can cope successfully and even thrive in such difficult situations.
Flora M. Torra is a Licensed School Psychologist, Child and Adolescent Therapist, and has extensive training and experience as a Play Therapist. Flora practices at Holistic Health & Counseling Center in Winter Park Florida and can be contacted through their website at hhandcc.com.