- Play Therapy
As an intrinsic part of childhood toys play many different roles: from comforters to imaginary friends; tools for cooperative play to exploratory construction. They can also be of immense use in educational and therapeutic environments where play therapy is an integral part of helping children cope with difficult or challenging situations.
We thought you might be interested in this aspect of play so we asked the experts at GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital) and Kidscape to discover how appropriate toys can really help children who may be facing a change in family circumstances, a medical procedure or long-term health issues.
Extensive research into what constitutes good play therapy and how it works has been undertaken by a number of different sources. Children who act out scenarios using physical toys are more likely to overcome issues and situations which frighten them than those who rely solely on talking therapies. Toys create a place of safety for young children where they can examine their feelings and concerns through a mixture of role-play and re-enactment.
Sue Ware, Head of Play Services from Great Ormond Street Hospital, explains "When children come to hospital for a procedure Play Specialists use toys and specially adapted books, dolls and teddies to show patients what will happen to them during their admission. This allows the child to explore and understand what is going to take place and that makes them generally much better prepared and less anxious". Play also offers an effective distraction which lowers their anxiety levels and helps create a much more positive experience and outcome - it makes such a difference to their experience which increases recovery rates."
Toys can also play a very important role when a child needs to articulate a challenging situation such as bullying.
"Toys can be very important for a child who needs to express concerns about a difficult or frightening experience such as bullying. Using a familiar and non threatening object in play often enables children to communicate their worries or fears to an adult. Exploring a situation or a problem through play can overcome embarrassment or a lack of vocabulary” comments Michele Elliott the Founder of Kidscape, the first charity in the UK set up to prevent bullying, and which runs free courses for children to help stop bullying.
For children who have been through difficult experiences using toys to tell their life-stories can be the beginning of the process to overcome what may have been a very unsettling period in their lives, allowing them to form safe emotional attachments.
“We cannot underestimate the value that toys offer beyond simple play,” added Natasha Crookes from the British Toy and Hobby Association. “For the majority of children they will only ever be a source of entertainment and learning, but for some they bridge the gap between unfamiliarity and understanding. They can empower children to tell adults about their fears and experiences in ways which may not otherwise be possible.”