In part 1 of this post, “Non-Directive Play : A Way to Reduce Anxiety in Young Children Part I”, we talked about a tool called Non-Directive Play (or Child-Centred Play) that has the power to reduce anxiety in young children. We encourage parents to use non-directive play with their children as it produces great benefits in the mental health and well-being of their children. In part 2 of Non-Directive Play, we suggest ways parents can learn how to apply the play to their children and explain further how the play solidifies attachment and a feeling of safety in young children.
Non-Directive Play Solidifies Attachment
Non-Directive Play helps solidify the attachment bond between child and parent. Children who lack a solid attachment bond with their parent or caregiver have an increased inability to cope with anxiety. A strong attachment bond gives children a strong ability to deal with anxiety, boosts their self-confidence, and becomes the foundation upon which a child’s relational framework and social skills will be built on. Research conducted by Ray (2008) showed that engagement in Non-Directive Play “demonstrated a statistically significant positive effect” on any stress pre-existing in the parent-child relationship. For all these reasons, parents should put in the time and effort to facilitate a strong attachment bond with their children.
Non-Directive Play Enhances Safety
Non-Directive Play has been shown to enhance a child’s general sense of safety. This happens due to the safe environment of exploration and self-discovery that non-directive play promotes. During the play, a parent will refrain from asking any questions to preserve the safe, exploratory nature of the space that has been created, and he or she will not ask the child any questions they feel like must be answered. A safe play space is one within which things do not have to be qualified or categorized, but can simply exist, and be recognized and accepted as they are. All levels of anxiety are removed as there is no need to please one’s parent or caregiver.
This safe environment constructed by Non-Directive Play has been shown to lessen a child’s attention-seeking or acting out behavioural patterns. This method has demonstrated the greatest benefit for solving broad-spectrum behavioural problems, increasing children’s self-esteem, and reducing caregiver–child relationship stress (Lin & Bratton, 2015).
Non-Directive play is a simple process that can lead to incredible results for children. These results can be immediate and the positive impacts will be seen throughout a child’s life. Measured effects of Non-Directive Play include a more positive self-concept of oneself, better anxiety management skills, increased confidence, improved social skills, and a decrease in behavioural problems. All of these effects can make a significant impact in a child’s life and improve the family system as a whole (Wilson & Ryan, 2001).
While the concept is relatively simple, it can be difficult for parents to stop evaluating or reinforcing their child. Positive reinforcement and curiosity towards their children occurs very naturally to most parent, almost like a knee-jerk reaction. As a result, the best way to learn to engage in Non-Directive Play with one’s child is through learning from a therapist who is well-versed in the technique. This can give a parent the confidence to use the technique and the freedom to enjoy that time with their child. Parents who demonstrate an unconditional acceptance lay the groundwork for their child’s own acceptance of him or herself. Any pre-existing anxiety of the children will eventually be replaced with a sense of peace, comfort, and well-being.
Lin, Y. & Bratton, S. C. (2015). A meta‐analytic review of child‐centered play therapy approaches. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93(1), 45-58.
Ray, D. C. (2008). Impact of play therapy on parent-child relationship stress at a mental health training setting. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 36(2), 165-187.
Wilson, K. & Ryan, V. (2001). Helping parents by working with their children in individual child therapy. Child & Family Social Work, 6(3), 209-217.