Over the past couple of months you have noticed your child struggle with the following behaviors:
- Having excessive temper tantrums,
- Talking back
- Interrupting constantly
- Fighting others
- Throwing things
- Being oppositional and defiant
You have tried your best to deal with it. You tried putting them in time out, taking things away, and end up yelling a lot. Implemented a reward chart for a week but eventually gave up on that. On a very bad day, you lost all control and said something mean or maybe even spanked your child.
You are frustrated that the behavior is not improving or it has worsened. You plan to call your pediatrician’s office and see what they suggest. Chances are the doctor will provide you with a referral for “behavior therapy”.
What is behavior therapy?
Behavior therapy is based on the principles of “behaviorism”, which holds that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without addressing thoughts or feelings, and that mental health disorders are best treated by changing patterns of behavior. Behavior therapy focuses on reinforcing desirable behaviors and eliminating unwanted or maladaptive ones using positive or negative reinforcement. John B. Watson founded the theory of behaviorism back in the early 1900s.
Psychology has come a long way since then and there have been a lot of advances in neuroscience. Today, we know more about the human brain, the mind, emotions, and how they impact human behavior. We now have a deeper understanding of child development.
When children struggle with their emotions, they show us with behaviors. Children have a shorter list of coping skills than most adults and they do not express themselves like adults do.
Children express themselves through play.
Play therapy is a powerful and effective treatment modality used with children ages 3-12.
“Play Therapy is based upon the fact that play is the child’s natural medium of self-expression… It is an opportunity which is given to the child to ‘play out’ his feelings and problems just as in certain types of adult therapy an individual ‘talks out’ his difficulties.” Virginia Axline
A play therapist is a mental health professional who is trained in treating children using therapeutic play. Children can learn and practice better ways to behave, problem- solve, relate to others, and overcome life challenges through play. Play therapists often use a collaborative approach and include parents and teachers in the treatment process. Educating and advocating for the child so that the adults in the child’s life have a better understanding of the child to meet his or her needs, increases treatment outcome.
Play therapy is effective in the treatment of problematic behavior, as well as other social and emotional difficulties, including but not limited to anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, grief, trauma, and autism.