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Location: Home Building connection with your child through play on World Children’s Day

Building connection with your child through play on World Children’s Day

The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have been especially tough on families with young children, with the United Nations warning it has resulted in a crisis of children’s rights in some parts of the world.

Here in Australia we have been so incredibly fortunate to avoid the high death tolls and lingering health impacts seen elsewhere in the world. However, the extended lockdowns and other restrictions of 2020 and 2021 had their own challenges - and now we are ready to plan for a brighter future as we celebrate World Children’s Day on November 20!

Donna Spillman, a counsellor in our Therapeutic Services team in Deakin, agrees that lockdowns in particular have had an outsized impact on many of the Canberra region’s youngest residents.

“In the most extreme cases, some children have been exposed to increased domestic and family violence, which increases their risk of physical harm, as well as their anxiety, fear and sense of isolation and loneliness.”

Even where domestic and family violence isn’t a factor, many children have simply been missing their friends and social interactions.

“Kids will say they miss their friends and they are bored, but I think it’s more than that,” Donna says. “I think it’s because when children are with their friends, they get to communicate and be understood through their play and fantasy in a way that grown-ups can’t provide.

“Through their shared engagement in free play, they get to process their daily experiences and make sense of their worlds in a similar way to us having a good free-flowing rant with a trusted friend.

“One of my favourite quotes is ‘life can hurt, play can heal’ - a lot of kids have been missing that.”

The beauty of learning through play

One of Donna’s favourite methodologies to support her young clients, up to the age of about 8 or 9, is Child-Led Play Therapy. This method has been particularly useful in supporting families where the parents are separating - something we have been seeing more of with the pressures of the pandemic and lockdowns.

“The key to Child-Led Play Therapy is that the child leads rather than us teaching,” Donna explains.

Given a selection of purposely chosen toys, kids will use them to act out, and show us, what is happening in their lives. Play therapy allows children to express, regulate, communicate, and practice and master new social and emotional skills.

“Children experience a full range of complex emotions even though they can’t articulate them, because they have yet to develop the self-reflective and language skills needed,” she says.

“Unfortunately, what a lot of well-meaning grownups do is take away the child’s ‘knowing’ by minimising and denying their feelings. Statements and actions to ‘jolly’ a child out of their unhappiness can leave them feeling that not all feelings are okay.

“Through play therapy we can reinstate their knowing and ability to trust their feelings.”

Donna believes one of the best things parents can do for their young children is play with them, not games or sport (though those are great too) but to share some unstructured time with their kids … and follow where they lead. Play Therapy is a specialist approach, but the concept that underpins it is letting the child know that “I am here with you, and I’m really interested in what you are experiencing”.

“Well-meaning parents attempt to explain or talk to their kids about feelings, which is useful, but it’s not the same as playing with a child to have them show you what they are feeling… I would love to see more support for parents to learn how to do that well,” Donna says.

If you live in the Canberra region and feel you need extra support with your family relationships, please call (02) 6122 7100.

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