Anxious Child? Try Play!

By Elizabeth Ernest, LMFT, LCSW

Anxiety has been and continues to be on the rise with children and teens. In today’s fast paced society with high academic and career standards, it’s difficult for our world’s children to relax and simply play. International Play Therapy week is February 4th-10th, and I’d like to celebrate by exploring how techniques from play therapy can be used to reduce childhood & teen anxiety.

Play therapy is a therapeutic modality that can be utilized with all ages; child and adolescent therapists utilize many techniques from play therapy to help their young clients process their thoughts and emotions. For children, play therapy provides an avenue for expressing complex emotions that they might struggle to verbalize. Through toys, drawings, or role-playing, children can communicate their worries, fears, and hopes. Therapists can then guide them towards understanding and coping with these emotions in a way that is developmentally appropriate.

The process of play therapy also encourages the development of coping mechanisms. Engaging in playful activities creates a safe space for individuals to experiment with different ways of responding to stressors. This not only fosters a sense of control but also empowers them to discover effective strategies for managing anxiety in their day-to-day lives.

The next time that you feel that your child is anxious, why not try playing? You can help them reenact stressful events (like a recent doctor’s office visit) to help them understand and process what happened to them. You can model coping skills for stressed out stuffed animals or action figures; they can model taking deep breaths, telling their friend or family member about their feelings, or give each other hugs. Does your child have a favorite book that shows an anxious situation? Try playing pretend with them using that storyline to give them another perspective on the situation. You can even play around with changing the ending!

Play therapy techniques can be used by parents, caregivers, and teachers to help young minds process their anxious feelings. Children learn so much through play, and we can empower them to learn their best lessons via their powerful imaginations.

I am on the final phase of becoming a registered play therapist. If you are interested in play therapy or have questions about play therapy, please contact me! Is your child needing extra support? I am leading two upcoming programs for kids: a BFRB Support Course for Kids Ages 8-14 (a 4 week course for kids who struggle with skin picking, hair pulling, etc) and Play Therapy Summer Camp for Ages 5-7 (a 3 hour, week-long play therapy summer camp focusing on emotion regulation, peer relations, and many other social skills).

Elizabeth is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Elizabeth is dedicated to helping children and families build skills to overcome challenges and thrive. Elizabeth works with young children and youth struggling with anxiety-related disorders, OCD, behavior issues, adjustment issues, PTSD, and other trauma disorders. Elizabeth also works with couples, families, and co-parenting dynamics. She is currently accepting new patients and is able to accept UHC and Aetna insurance plans. Find out more about Elizabeth here.