5 Ways to Use Play as a Coping Mechanism

October 28th, 2013 by

We often write about the benefits of everyday play for both physical and mental growth. But not every day is ordinary, and sometimes our kids have to cope with negative or confusing experiences. From larger tragedies to illness in the family or loss of a loved one, children have to get through difficult times, too, but often don’t know how to express their emotions. That’s where play comes in as a powerful coping mechanism. Read on for five ways to use play to help your child cope with difficult situations.

1. Keep play open-ended

By letting your kids create imaginary scenarios in which anything is possible, you allow them to express emotions without feeling forced. In these situations, your children can lead the play session and mold it as they see fit, allowing you to watch and listen to what your kids are really saying, as opposed to trying to coax your child into sharing.

2. Help older children by creating outlets

Older children can benefit from getting out pent up energy that they might be storing inside when they bottle up their emotions. Doing physical activities like walking or playing basketball can be a good way to help them release energy and become comfortable enough to start a conversation.

3. Let young children soothe themselves with play

Young children without full language abilities won’t be able to verbally express their emotions, but they can help themselves feel better by playing and moving around, which triggers a calming response in the brain. Make a blanket and pillow fort, and crawl around with your children to help them feel better.

4. Be neutral and on their level

One of the most powerful things you can do to help your children cope is to just be there and play with them on their level. By getting on the floor and reacting neutrally and supportively, you help your kids know they are loved. Keeping your responses as supportive and neutral as possible helps your children express feelings without a fear of being judged, scolded, or told their feelings should be different.

5. Let them talk through events

Pretend play allows children to process events and simplify them in ways they understand. They can create characters or plots to match their state of mind, reenact situations that are on their minds, or ascribe their feelings to another character in ways that might help you understand how your child really feels.

Using play to cope can be a very effective strategy for children who have experienced a traumatic, scary, or confusing event. Sometimes, the best way to help your child is to just be there and listen, and let play do the rest.

About the Author: Robert Unger is sales manager at Play N' Learn's Playground Superstores 26 year old chain of 5 Maryland & Virginia stores. Since 2002, Rob has sold thousands of playsets, trampolines, & basketball goals to area families.