Children express themselves through play and through behavior.
Creative play is an essential ingredient for brain development, emotional development, and forward movement in all developmental domains. It is also an essential ingredient for overcoming stresses, traumas, and behavior issues. The quality of connection that parents have with their children during their play is extremely important in how constructive the play is for the child. This quality of connection could also be referred to as presence or attunement and has a profound impact on the child’s overall development.
Neuroscience is explaining how the parent is the organizer of the child’s many biological functions.
Neuroscience is explaining how the parent is the organizer of the child’s brain, and regulator of the child’s nervous system and many other biological functions. It’s the repetition of interactions daily that matter, especially very early in life. Neuroscience says that a relationship rich environment promotes healthy development, and a relationship rich environment creates repair of behavior issues, and other concerns.
Child Psychotherapy is about supporting the parent-child relationship, rather than supporting the therapist-child relationship.
In Parent-Oriented Child Psychotherapy, the therapist first works with the parents to provide an understanding of what is going on with their child—this is the first and second phases—parent education and parent coaching. In the third phase the child comes into therapy with the parent. Child play then occurs between child and therapist in the presence of the parent, or between parent and child in the presence of the therapist. The therapist is engaging with the child in ways which address the presenting issue. The parent is then able to model this play at home. Also, the therapist is able to support the parent and child in constructive, relationship building play which addresses the presenting issue.
An important part of the play is to provide a play environment where the child can take the lead, and the adults follow the child without intruding upon the child’s initiative. The session with a child is an hour. There is then a half hour post session with parents to debrief the session, which is usually by phone. Here the therapist provides an interpretation of the play during the session, and addresses parenting concerns.
The first priority is to understand behavior rather than change behavior.
Change happens when children have an opportunity to be seen and understood. Play and behavior are viewed as a form of communication. When adults seek to understand the behavior, or at least support its expression, problems are minimized or eliminated.
Play or session activities are always designed with the age of the child in mind. For example, with older children more talking may be involved, and age appropriate activities where parents and children are engaged together will be encouraged.