The importance of play therapy and playing with your children

Why am I playing games with your kid? (And why you should too)

Written by Child and Family Therapist Libby Steele, LPC 

If you’ve placed your child in therapy with us, you may have noticed or heard from your child that we “played games.” They may even be more specific, telling you about beating me in UNO, having good luck with Guess Who or losing a close game of Life.

The decision to put your child in therapy to begin with can be an emotionally charged situation, a logistically draining endeavor and an investment. So why would we be spending this precious time playing a round of Crazy 8’s or listening to music?

Here is what I know to be true about working with the developing brain: There is power in just letting the kid’s interest be their interest. In his book, “Killing Monsters,” Gerard Jones explains: when a child shows a genuine, or even passing interest in an activity there is real power in our “shared immersion” in the action.

When their hands are busy, when we are occupied in a friendly competition, more profound conversations easily emerge surrounding a host of topics. These may include:

  • How do I feel when I lose?
  • Do I sometimes experience rejection? Or Loss?
  • Do I ever get embarrassed and what do I do with that difficult emotion?
  • How do I experience anger and what does it look like to express that in a productive way? What about a damaging way?
  • Am I competitive? Do I like that about myself? Can I channel it appropriately? Does it ever get me into trouble?
  • Am I especially good at this game? Something else? How does this affect my self esteem or self confidence?

Adolescents, especially, may seek privacy and use provoking behaviors to create separation between them and their parents. Their job is to grow up and out into the world, AND they still WANT to know you’re hanging in there watching over them. Listen to their choice of music in the car, hear them out about a recent video game success, be openly curious about what it inspires in them. It is tempting to reject their choice of entertainment when it evokes a powerful response in us (especially if that response is anger), but there’s a reason teenagers gravitate towards music with a powerful “counter culture” message. It’s thrilling and validating to hear their fear, anger, jealousy and sadness parroted back to them in song. It makes them feel heard, and seen. Likewise, joining with your child over a familiar game is creating a venue for the safe exploration of harder topics and challenging emotions. When we are in this space of “shared immersion,” we have created a safe bubble around the interaction allowing the child or adolescent to be heard, seen and known in a way that facilitates growth.

Letting your teen struggle

Letting Your Teen Struggle

Written by Matt Dunatchik, LPCC

Raising teenagers can be both a spectacular experience and a horrendous experience.  Teens are difficult.  They can be moody, withdrawn, closed, and defiant.  They can also be charming, open, funny, and inspiring.  Having the patience to raise a teenager will help them thrive and grow so they can learn more deeply about themselves and the world around them.

The goal of raising kids and teens is to help them develop a strong identity so they can go out into the world and be wildly successful. Sometimes we, as parents, forget this when we’re in the midst of a teenage rampage and rebellion.

Here are some simple things to remember with your teens as they struggle to find themselves and push against you to learn more about the world.

  1. Their job is to push back against the parents/family as they figure out their own beliefs, identity, voice, and goals.
  2. Helping them means being open when they are struggling and NOT TAKING AWAY THEIR STRUGGLE.
  3. Let them come to you when they need help.  Don’t force yourself upon them with help; they will most likely shut down or get angry. Remember to stay open so to help your teen feel safe enough to share with you.
  4. Maintain age appropriate and healthy consequences. When they do make mistakes they can easily learn where the boundaries are.
  5. Let them know that you are here for them if the want help from you.  Offer solutions ONLY after asking if your teen wants them.

Remember, your teen’s goal is to learn how to self-identify and navigate a difficult world.  They need to struggle in order to learn and can do this best with parents’ support and boundaries.