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Unlocking the Power of Non-Directive Play Therapy: Nurturing Strong Parent-Child Bonds



One day I showed my son (3 years old) a video of a family friend competing in track and field. He saw the man doing hammer throw and when the man yelled after he threw, it scared him and he started to cry. Only 5 minutes later he was throwing things in the house and grunting, trying to process the experience through play. Had I stopped him from throwing things he would not have had a chance to make sense of his feelings. Instead he threw things (I took him outside) while I spoke to him about what he was doing "your throwing the sticks just like that man, you made a loud scream like him too!" Later he was comfortable watching the video again without being triggered.


Non-directive play therapy allows children to express their emotions naturally and instinctively. Non directive means that parents are not leading the play through giving instructions, asking questions or demonstrating things. The parent simply follows along with the child, by describing, reflecting and imitating what your child is doing. Neurologically this has an important process of connecting the logical and emotional aspects of an experiencing so that they are no longer evoke strong emotions.


Non-directive play is important for so many reasons, in particular, it fosters a deep emotional connection between parents and children. By being attuned observers during play, parents create a safe and accepting space for their child to freely express their thoughts and feelings. This enhances a foundation of trust and strengthens a secure attachment between parent and child, the foundation for emotional health in life.


What are the basic skills for play therapy? You can easily incorporate this into your daily life!

  1. Labelled Praise: Give very specific and genuine praise. For example, "I really like the color you chose to paint the trees in this picture!" is very specific compared to "Nice Painting!". Children get a much more positive experience when things are specific because it comes off as much more genuine.

  2. Reflect: Mirror and acknowledge your child's feelings and experiences to show understanding and empathy. For instance, "I can see that you're feeling sad because your favorite toy broke" or "You seem really excited about going outside". This helps children make sense and integrate a sense of their own experience.

  3. Imitate: Engage in play that imitates your child's actions and interests. If your child is playing with toy cars, you can join in by saying, "Vroom vroom, my car is zooming too!"

  4. Describe: Use descriptive language to narrate your child's actions and experiences during play. For example, "You're building a tall tower with the colorful blocks" or "You're drawing a beautiful picture of our family."

  5. Enjoy: Demonstrate genuine joy and interest in your child's play activities. Express enthusiasm and encourage their efforts, such as saying, "Wow, you built an amazing castle!" or "I love how creative you are with your art!"

Set aside 5 or more minutes a day to practice these skills with special play time just for your child. If you can do these things while avoiding asking questions, giving commands and criticizing/sarcasm, then you are on your way to doing play therapy with your kid! If you would like personalized feedback/training then do not hesitate to reach out at www.ToddLabbePsychology.com

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