The 3 W’s of Play Therapy: What is Play Therapy, Why it’s Helpful, and When Can my Child Benefit


The 3 W’s of Play Therapy: What is Play Therapy, Why is Play Therapy Helpful, and When Can my Child Benefit from Play Therapy

By: Jennifer Wisser-Stokes, MSCP, LMHC, DCC,

Encountering parents in my therapeutic work with children I often hear parents say, “You all are just playing. How is this going to help my child?”

Before I get into what is play therapy, why is play therapy helpful to children, and when can a child benefit from play therapy, it’s first important to know some basic information about play itself.

The Basics about Play:

Play is a universal activity spanning across generations and cultures. Play is children’s natural way of understanding and relating to the world around them.  Through play children learn about themselves, others, and the world. It gives children the opportunity to work through solving problems. Play allows children to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in their own native language, PLAY. With that said, Play is your child’s first language. Garry Landreth says it beautifully when he states, “Play is the language of children and toys are their words.” Play is a great way for children to not only learn, but find relief in stressful situations. And let’s not forget, Play is fun!! (Usually)

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is an established form of therapy used to help children overcome challenging life experiences, as well as overcome difficult behaviors and feelings. It’s more than just playing with toys and playing games (although you can learn a lot about a child from just watching him or her play alone). Play therapy provides children with the opportunity to express themselves (thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and experiences) in an accepting therapeutic way with someone who is trained in speaking their native language, PLAY.

Just like we adults may pick up the phone to dial a friend to TALK OUT our frustrations or whatever is on our mind, children pick up the toys to PLAY OUT their frustrations. Play is their way of communicating with ease that comes naturally. Much of their desire to communicate in this ways has to do with their developmental level and language skills.

When a child has someone on the receiving end who understands the language of play (as in someone trained in using play therapy) and understands what a child is trying to communicate through play, it paves the way for the child to overcome intense feelings, thoughts, experiences, and/or behaviors. The therapeutic play process also provides opportunities for the play therapist to help a child find solutions to their own problems in order to overcome the concerns that brought him or her into therapy in the first place.

As a child therapist, using the power of play helps me understand a child’s world, so I can work with him or her on their developmental level in order to overcome challenges. This same understanding also helps when it comes to working with their parents to provide information and strategies they can then use at home to support their child in overcoming challenging behaviors, experiences, and emotions.

Why is Play Therapy Helpful?

Play therapy has extensive research supporting its benefits on a variety of problems that children come to therapy for. Play therapy helps children to:

  • Express their thoughts, feelings, experiences, desires, and needs in a safe and trusting place that can be helpful in “getting things off their chest”
  • Develop skills to increase healthy coping and resilience
  • Improve social skills to promote positive communication and interactions with others to help establish and maintain healthy relationships
  • Increase healthy levels of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem
  • Develop a sense of responsibility and self-control
  • Create meaning out of difficult experiences as a way of adjusting and overcoming challenges

When Would My Child Benefit From Play Therapy?

We all encounter difficult times in our lives and the same can be true for children as well.  Here are some considerations in determining if play therapy is right for your child:

  • Is between the ages of 3 to 10 years of age. (However, play therapy can and has been used for all ages too, but that’s outside of the scope for this blog!)
  • You’re getting calls from your child’s teacher about his or her behavior in school
  • Your child seems easily frustrated and irritated, often leading to frequent tantrums or anger outbursts
  • Your child is struggling with following directions or exhibiting other disrespectful behaviors at home that then create tension within family relationships
  • Your child struggles with low self-esteem, self-worth, or self- confidence. As a result, he or she may give up on things easily and/or be unwilling to try new things that may interfere in some way with things like making friends and performing well in school
  • Your child has trouble making friends and/or keeping friends
  • Your child has experienced something traumatic (such as a family death, being involved in a car accident, being a victim of abuse, etc.)
  • Your child has gone through a major change in his/her life that he/she is still struggling to adjust to (such as divorce, adjusting to new stepparent or step-siblings, starting a new school, etc.)
  • You sense as a parent (you know that gut feeling mommies and daddies have with their children) that something MORE is needed than what you can provide at home. Trust your parent “Spidey Sense”
  • When you, the parent, want more support from a professional in addressing your child’s behavior by learning additional parenting strategies for setting and maintaining consistent limits

** Final consider: Some emotional and behavioral challenges are AGE-APPROPRIATE and NORMAL. No one is perfect, right?! There are times when we as parents question ourselves as to if a concern we have about our child is something normal or something that warrants more help.

If you’d like help in determining whether or not the concern you have about your child is age-appropriate and normal OR if your concern is something the warrants more specialized attention, consult with a professional first hand. I offer FREE 30 minute phone consultations to parents in order to determine if professional help, such as child therapy, is right for them based off of their expressed concerns. If you are considering whether therapy would be beneficial for your child who may be struggling or know of a child who may benefit from therapy, feel free to share this information with those who may benefit or reach out to me directly to schedule your FREE 30 minute phone consultation by calling (407) 928-9249 or e-mailing at


Jennifer Wisser-Stokes is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Speaker who specializes in working with parents and children ages 0-10 overcome behavioral and emotional challenges and strengthening parent/child relationships. As a parent herself, Jennifer understands the delight in parenthood, but also acknowledges the challenges that accompany the complexities of raising healthy children. Jennifer offers FREE 30 minute  phone consultations to parents, individual therapy for children and families, as well as parenting groups.

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** This content is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace or serve as substitute for professional, medical, legal, or psychological services. **

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