From Therapy to Play

As many of you know, I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist, and I worked with children and youth before I became a SAHM. I incorporated a lot of play and art therapy into my sessions, and always thought that some could translate into valuable play activities at home. Yes, you can’t and shouldn’t be playing the “therapist” role as a parent, but you are still capable of promoting cognitive and emotional development and learning more about your child’s world. So today, I’m sharing four of my favorite therapy activities that can be easily facilitated at home to make your next playtime slightly different!

A simple drawing/ coloring activity can be incredibly powerful. Coloring has long been found to be therapeutic for children, as it allows a way for them to explore their feelings and thoughts through colors, lines, and shapes. So the next time your child is coloring or painting, describe out loud what she is doing. Watch for feelings that are being expressed indirectly and/or directly (e.g. your child’s face/body language) and acknowledge her feelings and desires. Drawing and coloring also help with hand-eye coordination, relaxation and patience, focus, confidence, fine motor skills (e.g. grasping, holding), and self-expression. Finger painting, coloring, and brush painting are suitable for all ages.

Kinetic Sand makes a great indoor sandbox for those long rainy days at home. And it doesn’t get messy like regular sand, because the texture is a mix between play dough and sand. When I introduce Kinetic Sand, I like to have the child lead the play– he can punch, he can stroke, he can build a sand castle, or a snowman. Just remember to stay with him and attune to his play. Again, describe his play, identify the feelings being indirectly/directly expressed, and join in on the play when he invites you. Child-directed play is a great way for parents to learn more about his coginitive and emotional world and Kinetic Sand is an awesome tool for that. Kinetic Sand also promotes fine motor development, sensory processing, creative thinking, speech and language development through narration and interaction, increased attention, and grounding (calming) experience. I highly recommend this and/or play dough for pre-verbal children (ages 6 m – 2 ).

Yoga Pretzels The box includes 50 cards on various yoga activities, such as breathing, relaxing, meditative posing, and engaging in group activities. This was my go-to for grounding children who communicated primarily through their bodies (which often manifested as restlessness and hyperactivity). For those with more than one child, these cards can be used to help build positive bond and interaction between siblings. The benefits of engaging children in yoga are endless; it helps our children develop body awareness, manage stress through breathing, increase awareness and healthy movement, build concentration, provide confidence and positive self-image, and teach healthy interactions through group activities. Yoga Pretzels is best suited for older kids, preferably from 5 years old and up.

“Today I feel” Chart While these are used mostly in therapy sessions, I believe that they are even more helpful when used at home on a daily basis. Children often struggle with explaining their feelings and communicate them through their behaviors. And many times, it’s because they don’t have the cognitive reasoning skills needed to identify and appropriately express what they feel. The feeling chart helps build this skill and can also become a fun daily activity for the family. You can personalize the chart by coloring, adding stickers, and deciding together where to hang it– and remember to allow them to decorate and hang it however they wish. You can also ask your children what feelings should be included. The ultimate goal of this chart is to provide a time when you can bond with your children, by checking in in a concrete and visual manner. I’ve seen some creative parents who tweaked this into a mini game. Remember, as a parent, you are trying to embrace all feelings (e.g. they can identify one feeling or 5 feelings at the same time), to reflect (e.g. “I can see you were very angry about that,” “That made you so happy!”) and to help them process their feelings (e.g. “I wonder what made you feel that way,” “I wonder how we can make that less scary for you…”). Here are other charts that I’ve found- here and here (If your child is into lego, here’s a fun lego version of the chart!)


I’m also always looking for more purposeful play activities to do with my little one. So if you have any favorites, please share in the comments below! Thanks for reading and happy Wednesday friends!

1 Comment

  1. Steph, these are such great activity suggestions! Looking into getting the kinetic sand for Cam! 🙂 Thank you for sharing! xoxo

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