Trauma and Play Therapy

Most children will experience some kind of distressing event during their childhood. While stressful, often difficult to cope with, and deserving help, they are not considered traumas. An event (or series of events) is considered a trauma when it leaves a child feeling helpless and unable to cope.

Children react differently to a trauma depending on their individual personality, age, past experiences and the support around them. However, when a child is traumatised, it affects their whole person; mind, body, spirit and relationships with others.

Trauma can result from events including:

Physical abuse

Sexual abuse

Emotional abuse

Neglect

Witnessing the death of another

Witnessing domestic violence

Bullying

Ongoing conflict between parents

Forced relocation (e.g., refugees)

Natural disasters

Serious accidents

Serious illness / medical procedure

War

Trauma symptoms in children

  • Recurrent memories of the distressing event which, when remembered may or may not appear to distress the child. Sometimes these memories may be expressed through their play
  • Upsetting and frightening dreams which occur repeatedly
  • Episodes where the child feels or acts as if the traumatic event is happening again
  • Intense or prolonged distress when the child is reminded of the trauma (e.g., visiting the location where the trauma happened)
  • Doing things to avoid upsetting memories or thoughts of the traumatic event
  • Doing things to avoid reminders of the traumatic event (e.g., avoiding certain people or places)
  • Other symptoms can include: memory loss regarding the traumatic event, angry or aggressive behaviours, being extra jumpy, problems concentrating, problems sleeping, depressed mood.
Trauma and Play Therapy

How you can help

  • Treatment for children with trauma is so important. Contact a professional as soon as you can and speak to them about getting help for your child.
  • Explore any options for funding to help pay for the cost of therapy, such as through Victim’s of Crime.
  • It can be easy to feel helpless as a parent and have an overwhelming desire to fix things for your child. These feelings can sometimes influence us to say statements like “look on the bright side” or “it’s not that bad”. Using reflective listening instead will really help your child to feel heard and understood. It can often reduce the upset they are feeling.
  • Be as gentle, nurturing and accepting of your child as you can. If they start having angry outbursts, start acting younger than they are, become withdrawn, or any  other trauma symptoms, try to be accepting as these behaviours are helping your child cope.

How Play Therapy can help

  • Play is the natural way that children communicate; Play Therapy allows children to use play to work through issues.
  • Children naturally react to trauma by playing out the experience in order to understand and cope with it. Play therapy facilitates this natural response and ensures that the play is healing and safe.
  • Play allows children to distance themselves from the traumatic event through symbolic play rather than confronting the trauma directly. This provides a much gentler and safer approach than some other therapies.
  • Play provides children with safety which allows them to express and explore their innermost feelings and vulnerabilities.
  • Play therapy allows children to heal the trauma at their own pace, in their own unique way, ensuring they are not retraumatised.