I remember several parent consultations where I discussed my play
therapy approach including freedom and leniency about play in the playroom, and was met with surprise and confusion. I was typically asked what
repercussions would result at home, by allowing the child to act in the play
room in ways that are normally against the rules. The answer is none!
To help you understand more of the process in play therapy, let
me set the stage. I began each play session with this statement to the child: “You
can play with all of the toys in most of the ways that you like.” Then
I allowed the child to direct and guide each session, acting in any manner or
making any decisions as long as both the child and I were safe. This often
involved aggressive or angry play, taking advantage of situations to gain the
upper hand, and cheating or manipulating circumstances to benefit himself.
Normally, in these children’s real lives,
parents or teachers would intervene in these scenarios and stop these behaviors.
Further, there would probably be a few moments spent explaining why these
actions are not kind, not fair, or not acceptable. However, entering the play
room afforded them the opportunity to act in ways that would normally be
prohibited, thereby expanding their self-responsibility.
The leniency with rules and expectations during play times mean
that I spent hundreds of hours witnessing the power of undirected play.
Children learned on their own how to be fair to others, why rules are
necessary, and what happens when violence or aggression is introduced. The
self-discovery process that emerges through the testing of boundaries and the
awareness of consequences is more effective that any discussion of rules.
The beauty of it all is that children instinctively understand
the difference between play and reality. What freedom is provided in the
context of play will not be expected at home. Rules that exist within the
family are still understood to be followed, even if they were lifted during a
play time. It does not create confusion or breed disobedience, but rather
communicates that play time serves a distinct purpose; it offers an escape from
the normal and routine which provides an outlet for exploration and discovery.
So, when your child is playing and throws the baby out of the
dollhouse window or shoves the army man’s head into the sand, guard against
correcting the behavior. If given the chance to play the scenario through, your
child will likely come to the same conclusions you would teach, albeit in a
different method and approach. When kids learn through play, the lessons are
far more significant because they figured them out for themselves!