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Therapy with Play Doh

I love play doh! I think it is a great invention and over the years, I have seen it be so beneficial in helping children learn new skills, both in developing fine motor skills and expressing their feelings. This week, I thought I would share some ideas in how play doh can be used in supporting children in their development.

Firstly, having worked in schools for the better part of 10 years, if I had a $1 for every time I have witnessed members of the teaching staff sitting in a classroom squishing, rolling and twisting coloured doh, I would be very rich indeed! It is great for relaxation. Play doh is a helpful way to improve focus and attention span. The simple act of manipulating the soft doh between your hands releases a lot of stress and tension. I have often found that if someone has something to do with their hands, it can calm any anxious or stressful feelings they may have and support them to contribute to the conversation. It can often free up our brains to process more complex ideas as it doesn’t have to control our bodies! It does sound strange but it can really work for some people.

Next, by allowing children to press and smash play doh, you can directly help them to release anger they may be holding. We all get angry at things but being allowed the opportunity to safely release that anger somehow, will really help them in their growth and expression. It might be helpful to allow children to throw play doh balls at a target on the wall or to encourage children to say something they are angry about, model it with play doh, and then allow them to smash the play doh.

Expressing feelings can be done in a variety of ways using play doh. When I work with younger children, we sometimes make a “feelings caterpillar”. Give the child different scenarios such as “someone laughed at me when I got the maths question wrong” and ask them to choose a colour that would represent how they feel and add it to the caterpillar. By doing this, it can provide the opportunity for children to talk about what makes them sad, happy, angry etc and by asking them why they chose that particular colour for that situation, you can start to see how they really feel.

Creating facial expressions is also a great way to help children explore their feelings in given situations or how they are feeling about a particular issue right now. All you need is someone creative to draw a few blank faces on paper, laminate them and then you can make the mouth, eyes, etc. to match the faces.

Enhancing imagination using play doh can be used in a directive or non-directive way. For example, you can just allow the child to take full control of the story telling and make any characters they would like to include in their story. Or you can ask the child to do something specific such as create an animal to represent themselves, another person, or an emotion they are feeling. I find this particularly useful when talking to children about what their “anxiety monster” might look like.

Play therapy is a great way to really support children to become more confident in expressing and dealing with challenges they face in life. If you would like to find out whether play therapy would be right for your child or family, then please email Kate.

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