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Can Play Therapy Help with ADHD? How to Unlock Its Full Potential

Play therapy is a child-centered approach to therapy that uses their main occupation, play, to process emotions or traumatic events, develop social skills, and manage symptoms of different mental health conditions. A therapist provides the child a safe space to participate in a variety of play activities, such as dancing, board games, and art, and will often get the parents or other family members involved.

Play therapy can be used for a person of any age, but it is most commonly practiced with children. But can it help manage the common symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Research says yes!

Play Therapy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Play therapy has been shown to be an effective way to help many children with an ADHD diagnosis learn healthy coping skills, learn to follow rules, build self-esteem, improve decision making skills, and control unhelpful or unsafe behaviors.

The structured, theoretically-based therapy sessions provide a supportive space to explore their feelings and meet them at their own level.

How Play Therapy Differs from Traditional Therapy for ADHD

Talk therapy may not be effective for a young child with ADHD, especially one who has difficulty articulating their feelings. Play therapy is distinct from traditional talk therapy, allowing children to express themselves and communicate in a way that is both natural and comfortable to them.

Benefits of Play Therapy for ADHD

If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, you may be wondering how a play therapist can help. There are a number of benefits to adding play therapy to a child's life.

Promotes emotional expression and self-awareness.

Play therapy can help a child with ADHD develop greater emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which in turn can enable them to better understand and manage their emotions over time.

Play therapy also provides a platform for children to express their feelings and experiences in a healthy and constructive way, which can be beneficial for their self-esteem and overall mental health.

Enhances social skills and problem-solving abilities.

Play therapy can help children with ADHD develop social skills, such as sharing, taking turns, and cooperation, which can be essential for building and maintaining relationships in both the present and the future.

Play therapy also enhances problem-solving abilities, helping children to think critically and develop creative solutions to life challenges, big and small.

Provides structure and predictability.

A therapist's playroom provides a structured and predictable environment, which is essential for children with ADHD who often struggle with organization and following routines. A child can find a sense of stability in a space that they know. In addition, this stability can help them feel secure, which can help reduce anxiety and stress

Play Therapy Techniques for ADHD

There are different techniques used within play therapy sessions that can target symptoms and teach different skills.

Directive Play Therapy for ADHD

Directive play therapy is when a therapist guides the child through specific activities or games designed to address particular issues or symptoms. For a child with ADHD, it can be used to help them learn impulse control, develop attention, cope with stress or anxiety, and improve social skills. Some common games and activities may include:

  • Movement activities like "the floor is lava" to help release energy, build coordination, proprioception, and other physical skills, and focus attention
  • Sensory play, like cooking or clay play, allows a child struggling with anxiety or emotional difficulties to engage their senses and relax
  • Arts and crafts activities like drawing your world will let a child with ADHD explore their feelings, develop creativity and practice problem-solving
  • Mindfulness and relaxation practices such as Bubble Breaths and Loving-Kindness Meditation to reduce anxiety and stress, improve self-regulation skills, and improve overall emotional well-being

Non-Directive Play Therapy for ADHD

Non-directive play therapy is when the therapist allows the child take the lead, and gives them the power to choose the activities they want to participate in or the games they want to play. This technique allows the therapist to observe and analyze a child's inner world, and to identify any areas of concern. With this information, they can develop further strategies to support the child.

Role-Playing and Therapeutic Storytelling

Role-playing and therapeutic storytelling are techniques used in play therapy to help children with ADHD process and manage their emotions, develop social skills, and practice problem-solving strategies.

The Role of the Play Therapist

A play therapist plays a crucial role in building trust and rapport with the child, creating a safe and supportive place for therapy to take place. As with all types of therapy, therapeutic alliance can be essential to success. When the therapist creates a connection with a child, they can use this relationship to better begin the act of teaching helpful behaviors and helping them understand their feelings.

The therapist's playroom should also be a safe space that children can interact with and know that they can share, create, and play without fear or anxiety. A variety of toys, activities, and supplies should be available to give children with ADHD a variety of choice.

Finally, a therapist should be an excellent clinician who can collaborate effectively with parents and caregivers. They can provide these adults with tools and strategies to use to support kids development, guide behavior, practice coping skills, and learn to express themselves in a healthy way.

Overcoming Challenges and Maximizing Benefits of ADHD Play Therapy

When interacting with children, a therapist needs to be ready to observe and adapt their strategies. Some common challenges in proving play therapy to kids with ADHD are difficulty engaging the child, managing hyperactive symptoms, and addressing any co-occurring mental health conditions.

A therapist works best when they can adapt their techniques to accommodate ADHD symptoms, communicate clearly and effectively with a parent, the school, and any other caregivers. Their space should be structured and predictable, so that the child does not become overwhelmed.

Supporting Children with ADHD in Austin, TX

If your child has ADHD and has difficulties working in a school environment, therapy can help. Therapists offer a number of tools and strategies that support parents and guide children to become their best selves.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level psychotherapists offers evidence-based therapeutic approaches and techniques that can support children with ADHD, helping them to express themselves, manage big feelings, and improve symptoms of anxiety.

Give us a call today, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right Austin child therapist to offer emotional support and the tools necessary to help your child thrive. 

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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