School Play Therapy as a Preventive Method of Reducing Emotional Problems in Youth
The recent shooting in a Parkland, FL high school has many people thinking about what can be done to prevent such tragedies. Arming teachers, employing guards, implementing metal detectors, gun control has been suggested. A more constructive solution would be the prevention of the development of hostile personalities. The implementation of a play therapy program in grades K-5 is one possibility. Schools provide counseling programs for middle and high school, but nothing for elementary schools. These young children do not respond well to “talk counseling,” but respond enthusiastically to play techniques. Many authorities believe that early intervention is the preferred approach to minimizing the development of many emotional problems.
Play therapy requires a room about the size of a classroom with many choices of playthings, including toys, paper, paints and musical instruments. The room should be large enough to provide for the active play of up to five children. Psychologists must be specifically trained in play techniques. They should be very tolerant of noise and skilled in the resolution of naturally occurring conflicts that occur during play. They also should be skilled in counseling of parents.
Play therapy provides opportunities for children to learn to channel their hostility into socially acceptable modes of expression. Also encouraged is having withdrawn children express themselves socially. All of these gains can occur in an environment where children are free to express themselves through play by themselves or with their peers. The only limit is that no one is allowed to hurt another physically. Noise is never limited. I have worked for years with children in play therapy and have personally witnessed the improvements in many.