Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Play-Based Interventions

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Play-Based Interventions

Article excerpt

Importance of Play

Birds fly, fish swim and children play. Play is as natural to children as breathing. It is the child's natural language, with toys as their words. It is the universal expression of children and it can transcend differences in ethnicity, language or other aspects of culture. Play can provide the sense of power and control that comes from solving problems and mastering new experiences, ideas, and concerns. It helps build feelings of confidence and accomplishment (Drewes, 2005). Play therapy is a method that uses play-based interventions and treatment with children, from infancy on up. It uses both play and verbal communication to understand and help the preschool child feel empowered, use their defenses adaptively and develop and use decision-making and coping skills to promote a sense of mastery (Schaefer, 1993).

Play therapy and the use of play-based interventions is by no means a new school of thought. The use of play in the treatment of children dates back to the 1930's to Hermione Hug-Hellmuth, Anna Freud and Melanie Klein. Several adult therapies have since been adapted for use with children, such as child-centered play therapy adapted by Virginia Axline (1969), sandplay therapy evolving out of Jungian theory through Margaret Lowenfeld (1979) and Dora Kalff (1980), and cognitive-behavioral play therapy by Susan Knell (1993). However, it is only in the past 25 years that child clinicians and researchers have looked at the specific qualities inherent in play behavior that makes it a therapeutic agent for change (Russ, 2004). The Association for Play Therapy (APT) was created in 1982 by Dr. Charles Schaefer for the purpose of promoting the healing powers of play, play therapy and credentialed play therapists.

Play therapy has also become an "umbrella" term that encompasses not only play therapy, but also art therapy, expressive arts therapy, drama, music and dance therapies, sandplay therapy, as well as Theraplay (Jernberg, 1979), Filial Therapy (Guerney, 1969; VanFleet, 1994) and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (Eyberg et al., 2001).

Since play is the language of the child, play provides a medium for building the essential relationship between the counselor and child. The counselor is able to enter into the child's emotional world as it is freely revealed and acted upon by the child (Landreth, 1983, p. 202).

Through play and play-based interventions children can communicate nonverbally, symbolically and in an action-oriented manner. Such communication is facilitated when we speak the child's language, and they are able to communicate thoughts, feelings and wishes in a manner that is consistent with their developmental capacities (Drewes, 2001a).

Play is universal, observed in virtually every culture. It has many benefits and is an essential characteristic of childhood (Drewes, 2005). It is inextricably linked to culture-how the culture develops poetry, philosophy, music, dance, competition, social structures-all have links to the society's view of play (Huzinga, 1949). But the way play looks and works differs across and within cultures (Sutton-Smith, 1974, 1999). Play is not only central but critical to childhood development (Roopnarine & Johnson, 1994). For a variety of species, including humans, play can be nearly as important as food and sleep. It is indeed serious business (Frost, 1997). The intense sensory and physical stimulation that comes with playing helps to form the brain's circuits and prevent loss of neurons (Perry, 1997).

Benefits of Symbolic Play

Children of all ages faced the trauma of September 11th, the tsunami in Asia, and recently Hurricane Katrina, as well as a myriad of daily traumas such as domestic violence, street gangs, school violence, bullying, death of a family member, and multiple losses. Meanwhile, school clinicians and mental health professionals need tools and skills to deal with ensuing reactions (Drewes, 2001c). …

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