“The activities that are the easiest, cheapest, and most fun to do – such as singing, playing games, reading, storytelling, and just talking and listening – are also the best for child development.” – Jerome Singer (professor, Yale University)
“The activities that are the easiest, cheapest, and most fun to do – such as singing, playing games, reading, storytelling, and just talking and listening – are also the best for child development.” – Jerome Singer (professor, Yale University)
Questions about “must have” toys get asked so many times by clinicians new to the field of play therapy. And, the answers can vary widely. I’ve given parents some of my favorite toys in the past.
The foundation for play therapy training for a lot of clinicians is Dr. Garry Landreth and Child Centered Play Therapy. He advises that play therapists include several toys from each of three categories. Note that this list does not include everything that would fit into each category (they are just examples) and also that you do need everything on any list
When doing more structured or directive play therapy interventions, you usually need things like:
It can be quite easy to find excellent toys everywhere you go. And Dr. Garry Landreth reminds us all to beware of the urge to get everything. He says in his book, The Art of the Relationship, “Toys should be selected, not collected.”
And I created this infographic to summarize my thoughts on creating the perfect play therapy space that you might find helpful.
But, I just recently heard it explained in a wonderful way by a colleague, Dr. Jessica Stone, who responded to this very question during a discussion board about the Play Therapy Summit. She gave me permission to share it with you:
Hi all, I like to take an approach of collecting gems along my way in this field. I am not sure I could identify the one thing my office couldn’t live without. It is complex. Is that my personal favorite thing? Or my client’s? Or the majority of my clients? What comprises a favorite thing?
I believe what we have in our offices needs to be a balance of 1) what is congruent with who we are, what we believe, what our theoretical foundation is, what our space allows comfortably, etc. and 2) what speaks our client’s language, what helps our clients speak, what speaks to our clients, what allows them to experience feeling heard, seen, important, and understood.
I like to take a gem from Maria Montessori and think of the tools in my office as a way of scaffolding within the office. There are items that fit where they are in this moment, items that help them move forward, and items that work when they need to regress a bit.
Sometimes these tools aren’t our preferred or favorite. Sometimes they are. As I look around my office in response to your question I think about the clients who use the majority of the tools in my office on any given day but I also think about that one client, the one who found the tool that meant the most to them and they used it in the most amazing way – whatever that meant for them – Jessica Stone, Ph.D., RPT-S”
As I was packing up my office to move out of the state this week, I found Dr Stone’s words especially helpful. I usually play loud music when doing tasks like this, but this time, I held each of the toys and remembered the children that used them and how they used them. It was a mix of joy and sadness as I reflected on all of those shared moments in this specific playroom.
In the end, I would recommend selecting a few items from each of Dr. Garry Landreth’s categories and then considering Dr. Stone’s advice about seeing the value of all the different toys in the playroom. But, know that whatever you have is enough. As long as you are in the room, focusing on the relationship with the child and responding in an authentic manner
**The post What are the “Must Have” Toys for a New Play Therapist? appeared first on Jennifer Taylor Play Therapy.
My playroom shelves are packed full of therapy games. I mean, really packed. I have well over a hundred therapy and counseling games on my shelves. As the president of the largest US publisher of therapeutic and counseling games, I have a lot more options than most child clinicians when it comes to acquiring games and selecting the ones I want to use in my sessions. Most of the time I try to be prescriptive. That is, I select games and activities most appropriate to the client I’m meeting with. Despite taking this approach I find myself gravitating to some games much more than others. Below are some of the games that I’m getting the most out of right now, and would recommend to my fellow clinicians for their play therapy practices.
Yes I Can! Handle My Anger – I’m a little biased, since I developed this activity. The Yes I Can! Handle My Anger game is designed to help participants understand and appreciate various aspects of being angry. There are three types of cards designed to help participants identify triggers for anger, identify positive and negative behaviors associated with anger, and identify thoughts associated with anger. Developing anger management skills is aided by discussion and role playing during the game. Participants use the cards to spell out “Yes I Can!” as they play, which keeps them interested and engaged.
Bridge Over Worried Waters – Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems during childhood and adolescence. Anxiety affects normal day-to-day activities and causes considerable emotional and physical distress as well as impaired academic and social functioning. Bridge Over Worried Waters is designed to support treatment of anxiety disorders in children ages 6-13 years old. The game incorporates relaxation, positive self-talk, and other coping behaviors into a game format. I like this game because it teaches concrete skills as well as providing lots of opportunities for discussion and exploration.
The Social & Emotional Competence Board Game – The Social and Emotional Competence Board Game was designed to give counselors and teachers another tool to teach social and emotional skills. Social and emotional competence refers to the capacity to recognize and manage emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish and maintain relationships with others. The Social and Emotional Competence Game is a fun way to teach empathy, communication skills, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, self-management, and responsible decision-making. Of course, I’m biased about this game since I developed it as well. It has turned out to be one of our best-selling games and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback.
The Social & Emotional Competence Card Game (ADHD cards) – The Social and Emotional Competence Game Card Set (Revised) can be used with the Social and Emotional Competence Board Game or as a stand alone card game. I use it both ways. The goal is to educate players about a specific disorder and provide skills for managing the disorder. There are five decks of cards, one for each disorder: Anxiety, Depression ADHD, Asperger’s, and Bipolar Disorder. When playing the board game, any of the five decks can be substituted for the Communication cards. The cards are used to facilitate an appreciation and understanding of the child’s difficulties, and develop strategies for managing and coping with their challenges. I have been using the ADHD and Anxiety cards, without the board, a lot lately. There are no time constraints and the game can be played for 5 minutes or 15. The game is over whenever time runs out.
Dr. Playwell’s Don’t Stress Game – Stress is a factor that contributes to almost every mental health problem. Stress can affect a child’s physical health, too. This is an engaging game helps children develop some of the skills they need to deal with all kinds of stress, including both developmental and situational problems. I’ve found that this game engages kids well.
Boundaries Baseball – Boundaries Baseball helps children understand and respect boundaries. Boundaries are essential for positive relationships with peers and adults; children who act out are often asking for the security of clear boundaries and the skills needed to respect them. Boundaries Baseball utilizes a baseball diamond format as a visual reminder for not going out of bounds. As part of the action of the play, participants will also have opportunities to toss a ball so that it stays within the boundaries of a strike zone. Game cards teach four kinds of boundaries: (1) Saying and accepting No, (2) Managing strong emotions, (3) Respecting personal space and property, and (4) Relationship/communication limits (friendship). This is another very engaging game.
Play therapists widely regard the use of aggressive toys, including toys guns, as an essential element to the playroom. However, many parents are hesitant to allow their children to play with toy guns. Nearly all schools have banned the use of toys guns (or even pretend shooting) completely.
Over the years, I have had some toy guns (not realistic looking ones, though) and other times I have taken them out. As a therapist, the use of toys guns is not essential, but the use of aggressive toys, is vital.
Aggressive toys are anything that a child can use to get out pent up anger or hostility. These toys can be used to role play fights or battles, good guy/bad guy situation, or other trauma re-enactments.
Aggressive-Release Toys are toys that are okay to destroy or break in some way. These toys help redirect actual aggression into a more acceptable alternative.
Children need a safe opportunity to express feelings of anger. In the play therapy environment, children can use aggressive toys to play out things that are happening with people in their lives. BUT…when it is done with an animal instead of a doll person, it feels safer to the child. It is the same feeling/movements/thoughts but it doesn’t feel as real.
Also, when using aggressive release toys, children get to move their bodies in a way that helps relieve the physical tension that anger brings. Pounding clay, stomping egg cartons, or swinging foam swords helps move the body in ways that release tension and the accompanying noise that the movement makes also helps reduce tension.
Finally, aggressive play helps teach children boundaries. In rough/aggressive play, children learn how hard to swing without actually hurting the therapist, or how fast to move without falling down. They learn how to “take a break” if someone needs to rest and how to start back up again. I have witnessed siblings learn how to set rules for “fair fights” using foam swords and how to negotiate cheating.
It depends on what research you read. A few studies have shown that aggression may increase temporarily after playing with aggressive toys. This DOES seem to be more true when you are talking about playing violent video games (different story there). But, long-term, there is no reliable evidence that toy guns create more aggressive kids.
In fact, the opposite holds more true. If a child has an appropriate place to express and display anger, then they are less likely to use anger with their peers (or parents). Telling children, “Don’t get mad” is not nearly as helpful as teaching them what to do when they are mad to diffuse it. The use of aggressive release toys helps teach children what to do with their angry in a way that will not get them in trouble.
In fact, many therapists find that children will turn neutral toys like blocks or their fingers into guns, knives, or bombs in order to communicate their needs with whatever is available. The expression often goes:
If a child needs a gun to represent something going on in their life, they will find something and turn it into a gun (either in shape or with the noises that they make) to communicate that need.”
Regardless of your use of toy guns, there is never a bad time to talk with children about what to do if they find a gun while playing. Just recently, there was an incident here in Memphis where a child picked up a gun and shot his brother accidentally.
There are many factors in that case that have nothing to do with aggressive play or aggressive toys. And yet, the underlying fear is that if we let our children play with aggressive toys, things like this will happen. So…
Recently, I polled a group of play therapists and they overwhelmingly reported that they not only had toy guns in their offices, but that they found them to be an essential component of a play therapy space. However, those that did not have toy guns felt that the same benefits were achieved through the use of other aggressive release toys (like ropes, knives and swords) without the complications.
Moreover, representing reality in the playroom is important. The truth is that many children have parents that work with weapons (law enforcement and military) and others have been exposed to very traumatic events involving drug raids, shootings, or other community violence.
To deny access to those items or experiences seems to somehow convey that those feelings, thoughts or experiences are shameful, wrong, or not important. The playroom is a place to overcome those feelings and any toys that facilitate that process are okay in my office.
Do you allow your children to play with toy guns?
Thanks to Jennifer Taylor for this great post!
To check out Jennifer’s website, click here!
I’ve told you in my last two posts about how much I love using games in therapy, especially with children and adolescents. I’ve already explored how I use the games Jenga and Find It in therapy sessions, thus using otherwise “non-therapeutic” games and turning them into effective therapeutic interventions that I can use for multiple purposes. Like Jenga and Find It, I use numerous other “non-therapeutic” and therapeutic games to teach various topics and skills to my clients. If you’re new to reading this blog, the difference between “therapeutic” and “non-therapeutic” games is nothing more than what their intent and purpose were when they were created. “Non-therapeutic” games are those that you can find at your local department store in the game aisle, such as UNO and Scrabble. In my own experience, I have found that ANY game can be made therapeutic, just like any game can also be made educational. Today’s game is a popular classic among board games: Sorry! I use the game Sorry! to teach children to take responsibility for their behaviors and actions, as well as to demonstrate through role play how and when to apologize.
To start the game of Sorry!, each player chooses a pawn color and places his four pawns on the matching colored START circle. The included pack of game cards are shuffled and placed face down on the space marked “PLACE PACK” in the center of the game board. Then game play begins around the board. A player draws the top card from the pack and places it face up onto the “DISCARD” space on the board. He follows the card’s directions, moving his pawn a number of spaces. When a move ends on a square already occupied by an opponent, the opponent’s pawn is bumped back to his START.
Regardless of whether in his favor or not, a player must make a move with one of his pawns as directed by the card he has drawn. The player who first moves all four of his pieces from his START to his HOME of the same color wins the game. The frustration Sorry! usually elicits in its players is often attributed to the cards’ directions not being in one’s favor, as well as being bumped back to his START space, either as a result of his opponent or because he has drawn a Sorry! card forcing him to land in an unfavorable position.
Enter Therapeutic So Sorry! When playing the game in therapy, I add So Sorry! cards. Each time a pawn is bumped back to its START circle, the opponent who caused the bump back must draw a So Sorry! card. These are cards with questions and role play tasks in which the player has to either discuss or role play his taking responsibility for pretend behaviors and actions in which he should be “so sorry.” The set of cards also includes questions about the client’s own behaviors/actions and prompts them to explore whether he needs to take responsibility for said actions. To use the “So Sorry!” cards that I have, you can click here. Game play resumes as normal after the So Sorry! task has been completed.
Therapeutic So Sorry! is a lot of fun to play, and I’ve found it especially helpful when working with children who have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions and those with behavior and/or impulsivity disorders. It can also be used to reinforce appropriate social skills to use when having to take responsibility for one’s behavior. Best of all, the children I work with love playing the game just as much as I do!
“Following attainment of a B.S. in Psychology in 2001, I earned my M.A. in Counseling from West Virginia University in 2004. I returned later to obtain certification in School Counseling.
I have extensive experience in working with children and adolescents, though I also see adults. I also specialize in treatment of trauma-related issues and concerns (including PTSD), behavior disorders (such as Oppositional Behavior Disorder), and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I am skilled at working with parents and families who are experiencing issues at home, focusing on each individual’s strengths and needs while they rebuild the family unit.”
Confession time: I’m an addict.
What kind of addict you ask…
..the best kind: the sandtray miniature kind!!
I’m betting that if you are reading this super nuanced post about the details of doing sandtray therapy you should belong to a miniature meeting somewhere too, am I right??
Okay, so let’s get to it…
Last week I moved into a new, KA office where I have a spacious training room as well as a play therapy space.
I’m not gonna lie, moving sucked a big one, but one bright spot appeared in the whole process….
I got to rearrange and set up my miniatures just as I wanted them on brand new shelves!!
Since I’ve been doing sandtray therapy trainings for several years now (sign up here to grab your spot at my next training), many folks have asked the best way to arrange miniatures on shelves.
As an aside, don’t worry for you traveling, crammed-for-space-therapists- my next blog post will be just for you so be on the look out!
Now, back to the fun stuff.
I’m going to show you how I arrange my miniatures and tell you my logic behind my placements. Plus, you’ll get to see most of my miniatures up close and personal, which I can bet will give you some miniature envy (there’s no such thing as ‘enough’ miniatures!)
Okay! Roll up your sleeves and let’s dig in shall we?
To start, you can see my animal shelves below. I place my animals closest to the bottom because they are most used my younger kiddos. Young kids are most likely to use animals rather than people so putting them on the bottom just makes practical sense.
When I moved offices, I knew I had to dedicate more shelves to fantasy miniatures. These are also a must-have for your sandtray collection because they get used with all ages. Adults usually place them as metaphors or hobbies, but kids will tell lots of stories with the fantasy figures.
Don’t worry- by placing an Elsa miniature there you aren’t guaranteed to hear the whole plot of Frozen. (Read this post to find out why).
If you work with kids AT ALL, you will likely have a difficult time keeping this shelf neat and tidy. Little boys typically LOVE to smash cars into each other. Remember, even if they can’t tell you what is happening in the tray, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. The brain never misses a chance to integrate.
When working with school age clients and older, having a variety of people is extremely helpful. Try to collect as many different ages, skin colors, and diverse abilities as possible.
As you can see, I separated mine into gender and then had a shelf for groupings of people. I also made a separate placement just for what I think of as “milestone markers,” such as birth, weddings, graduation. Place these near the bottom so your kids can access people miniatures as needed.
I have an entire shelf devoted just to fences. You really can never have too many fences. Kids will often line the tray with fences and have fences inside of fences. A variety of size and shapes are helpful. To find out more about fences in the tray, click here.
Just as fences get used in trays for all ages, so do treasure chests, treasures, and rocks. I try to place these near the middle on my shelves.
Don’t worry about sorting all of your rocks because the kids will choose what they need anyway (and you will drive your OCD self INSANE if you make this a priority.)
Seems like an odd pairing at first huh? But, if you think about it, religion plays a key role in how we see death, so it makes sense to have these near each other.
Clients of all ages will use these- adults again, perhaps more metaphorically but these two shelves do get a lot of use in my play room.
In case you can’t see, they are in the middle shelves.
But what about all that stuff that just doesn’t have a category??
Round those up and put them on shelves you classify as “miscellaneous.” Adults LOVE these shelves. So many abstract thoughts and stories come from random miniatures.
Always keep an eye out at yard sales and flea markets for one-of-a-kind miniatures to fill these shelves. Often those miniatures where I have NO CLUE how they could be used end up being the most popular ones!
I place my houses at the top because these rarely get used by little ones, but adults love to populate their trays with houses. A variety of houses is helpful for the client to find one that is “just right.”
Bridges are often used by adults to symbolize hope and connection. Any time you see a bridge come into a tray, know you are on the right track.
I keep my breakable stuff on the top shelves. However, this doesn’t mean that stuff never gets broken. If you are super worried about it getting broken, it doesn’t belong in your collection. Put that on a bookshelf somewhere where you can admire it.
Adults will be the ones who use these. Even then, it’s not super common for adults to use them. I think I have these for myself, if I’m honest.
Hope this was helpful to you! Stay tuned for the next post about space-friendly set-ups for miniatures.
Now that you’ve seen mine- I want to see your miniatures! Put a picture of your collection or your most favorite miniatures in the comments and then we can all have miniature envy!
Thanks to Amy Flaherty and The Southern Sandtray for this great post!
Visit Childtherapytoys.com to for all of your sandplay and child therapy needs!
Liana Lowenstein, MSW, RSW, CPT-S, has offered up some great tips for therapy first-timers. Children often have questions about what to expect from their appointment, what the appointment means, and why they have to go. Lowenstein has some answers to ease their minds and make their first therapy appointment less intimidating. Read full article here!
Cognitive restructuring occurs regularly in the playroom as a child experiences the therapist’s full acceptance. Teaching cognitive restructuring, however, may expedite the process of having a child experience heartfelt self-acceptance. A useful analogy is that of a school teacher teaching classroom rules. The teacher will allow students to learn classroom rules throughout the first week of school through experience, but prior to that experience, the teacher will verbally share the rules, and may even write them out and post them.
Here are a few ways a play therapist can teach cognitive restructuring:
“You don’t think you can do it.” (I am helpless or powerless.)
“So, nobody likes you?” (I am worthless.)
“Your teacher should do it your way.” (I should be in charge.)
A cautionary note: Some children are truly unloved and taught that they do nothing right. In these cases, these interventions may not be appropriate in the early stages of therapy, and will need to be preceded by other interventions. It is also important to note that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has two parts: cognitive restructuring and behavioral change. Children are able to learn new beliefs about the world, their relationships, and themselves by understanding cognitive restructuring. They will also need to practice new behaviors, reinforced with new beliefs, to experience heartfelt change.
Celebrate feeling happier!
Donna is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor in private practice, in Savannah, GA. Visit her website: http://www.donnahammontree.com/
Theme: Expressing feelings, coping skills, relaxation skills
Recommended Ages: Pre-K through 5th grade, as well as family members who may be older
Goals: Identifying and expressing feelings appropriately
Identifying appropriate ways to cope with feelings
Materials: Monster Stomp Board Game
Description: Monster Stomp is a game that children really enjoy. They get to STOMP monsters and enjoy sensory play with the play-doh while creating monsters for the game, and when putting the stomped monster in jail.
Begin the activity by explaining how the game is played and either make the monsters with the enclosed clay, or display the Monsters you made in advance. Explain that anytime a monster is stomped the participants may choose a feeling. This could be a negative feeling that they have experienced during the previous week (i.e. Monster Mad), a feeling they’d like to have, or a feeling they anticipate having. Participants should then discuss the feeling and identify coping strategies or relaxation techniques they can use to manage the negative feeling, or if they have identified a feeling they’d like to have, something they could do to achieve that feeling. This can be done in individual or family sessions.
Both during and after the game, process the feelings and skills discussed. Monster Stomp is especially useful when teaching children appropriate ways to express anger, identify triggers for anger, and cognitions or thoughts that might contribute to anger. The process of smashing the monster can act as an stimulus for identifying and expressing angry thoughts and the therapist can talk about “taming the angry monster.” Role playing strategies for managing anger (e.g., deep breathing, punching a pillow, talking about it, or an anger dance that includes stomping out all the anger) is also important.
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the self-esteem of children with ADHD, over the span of their childhood, experiences a thousand cuts. Even in the presence of well-meaning and supportive adults an individual with ADHD is constantly reminded that they’re not quite making it: forgotten homework, incomplete chores, poor grades, reminders to be quiet, lost or misplaced shoes, gloves, jackets and school materials, and tardiness, to name just a few of the negative behaviors displayed by someone with ADHD. And then there are the comments: “how many times do I have to tell you?” When will you learn?” How hard is this?” “Why can’t you get this?” and “Just be quiet!” Then there is the endless parade of negative consequences: time outs, lost electronics, no recess, no play time, frowns, irritation, and disappointment from parents and teachers, and in some cases much worse consequences. Humans are resilient. A single cut, and the body heals itself. Multiple cuts, spread over a life-time, and the body heals itself. But a thousand cuts massed over a short time period, and the body dies.
In their book, “Death by A Thousand Cuts” Brook, Bourgon, and Blue note that the purpose of this type of execution isn’t just about inflicting physical pain and death. It was also meant to deny the victim hope of life after death, and inflict shame. The thousand cuts experienced by an individual with ADHD often has a similar effect, the infliction of shame and the loss of hope, not for a life after death, but a decent life while they still have breath. Adults with ADHD are disproportionally represented in incarcerated populations, experience more academic failure, more employment disruption, and more marital conflict.
What to do? First, we need to make sure we understand ADHD. It isn’t just about being hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive. Individuals with ADHD experience a complex set of difficulties including emotional sensitivity, executive functioning deficits, social skill deficits and challenges regulating their attention. Individuals with ADHD can pay attention if the thing they are attending to is intrinsically interesting to them, or they have been offered a big enough carrot. The challenge for an individual with ADHD is arousing themselves to attend adequately to things that are tedious and monotonous. Additionally, individuals with ADHD may over-focus and have difficulty disengaging from what they are involved in.
What else? Let’s stop trivializing the diagnosis. ADHD won’t physically kill you, but it does contribute to a great deal of emotional distress and a lifetime of challenges. And, let’s start diagnosing it correctly. Take the time to get a thorough history, review school records, and get standardized questionnaires completed by parents and teachers. We also need to acknowledge that ADHD is a neurological problem that doesn’t fix itself, and doesn’t get fixed with psychotherapy. While therapy is often an important component of treatment, parents and children with ADHD need to be educated (constantly) about ADHD, individuals with ADHD frequently need increased structure (e.g., 504 plan, regularly scheduled homework time, bedtime, and mealtime), increased support (homework assistance, tutoring, organizing their backpack) and finally medication. We need to get educated about medication and quit being afraid of it. Enlist the support of a good psychiatrist or pediatrician, and a good psychologist if the diagnosis is not clear, or there are multiple diagnoses to be ruled out.
By acknowledging the emotional distress experienced by individuals with ADHD over their lifetime, we increase our ability to respond empathically and appropriately to our clients with ADHD, and put them in a better position to lead successful and fulfilling lives.