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Stowe guests: How play therapy can help children and teenagers of divorce and separation

For children and teenagers going through a divorce or separation, expressing their emotions can be difficult. To start, they do not communicate as well as adults by talking and do not understand how to verbalise the emotions that come from a family breakdown.

Instead, they often use play to express themselves. This is a non-threatening approach where they are not asked to talk but instead just play. However, through play, a lot of what they are feeling, and thinking is projected.

So, for this instalment of Stowe guests, we asked Penn Wall from Penn Wall Play Therapy to join us on the blog to explain how Play Therapy can help children and teenagers going through a divorce or separation.

“Play is an essential part of every child’s development emotionally, socially and spiritually; it helps to develop the child’s personality and character. It is necessary for children to reach their full potential and can result in long-term positive health effect both physically and mentally.

What is play therapy?

Play therapy empowers children and teenagers to cope with problems in their lives and to increase their self-esteem and confidence. It improves their emotional wellbeing and may be used to help and support a mild to a moderate, emotional or psychological problem that is preventing them from functioning normally. Play therapy is called special time for the younger children and chill out time for teenagers.

What will my child do in play therapy?

There are many activities for children and teenagers to do in play therapy. Sand tray, art, clay and role play are generally the most popular. There are musical instruments, art & crafts, dolls, puppets, dressing up clothes and props, as well as a selection of objects that they use in the sand tray. The child/teenager chooses what they want to do and at their own pace.

I am getting a divorce and worried about my children, how can play therapy help? 

If your children are showing signs of anger, frustration, sadness or depression, it might be that they are struggling to deal with the enormity of the situation that they find themselves in and over which they have no control.

Children and teenagers often feel that a situation is their fault, or their mother’s or their father’s fault. Their upset and frustration can result in emotional outbursts, becoming withdrawn, being physically/verbally aggressive and acting in a way that parents may not have seen before.

This behaviour is completely normal, but it naturally causes great concern. This is where play therapy can help.

By creating a safe permissive space, children and teenagers can process things that are going on in their lives through play. Play therapy is about reflecting feelings back to the child/teenager in such a manner that they gain insight into their behaviour. It is about acknowledging that you are listening and have heard what they are expressing. This does not necessarily need to be verbal.

It is giving the child the empowerment to make choices and institute change. During symbolic play and through using metaphors the child/teenager is able to express their emotions. This enables them to release their emotions in a way that they discover their inner self and strength. This is a pathway to believe in themselves.

What are the benefits of play therapy?

Play therapy really works as a way to handle a divorce or separation, by enabling children and teenagers to express, process and deal with their emotions.

I recently worked with a young boy who was struggling to deal with the changes brought about by divorce and this was impacting on his school, home life and relationships.

We worked together in weekly sessions and as his Mum noted, “He changed into a confident and happier little boy. For me, the biggest impact was he was able to communicate how he was feeling, something that he found really frustrating before.”

To find out more.

To find out more about how play therapy can help children and teenagers going through a divorce or separation you can visit my website: Penn Wall Play Therapy or email: [email protected]

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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