When children experience loss or grief at a young age, they are ill-equipped to deal with the associated trauma. Angry and confused, children do not have the capability to express such intense emotions in a healthy manner. Max was an 8-year-old who came to bestchance’s ‘The Cheshire School’ following concerns due to his behaviour.
Can you imagine what it feels like to be angry as a child? That sense of frustration and a loss of control. Some children go through childhood feeling angry as a result of trauma, leaving them with significant social, emotional and behavioural problems. These children grow up to be vulnerable adults and sadly their whole life can be affected as a result of circumstances out of their control.
At bestchance’s Cheshire School, we use play therapy to support change.
Play therapy allows a child to express themselves through a more familiar ‘language’ which reveals their view of the world; the things that challenge or frighten them, their hopes and wishes, and their struggles with behavioural boundaries and self-esteem.
Max is an 8-year-old boy who had been in foster care for 18 months. His mother struggled with ongoing drug and alcohol dependence whilst Max had never known his father, who was incarcerated at the time. Despite Max being in a calm and loving environment, he was frequently violent towards his foster parents and others, becoming upset over the smallest frustrations. He was unable to learn at school and was rapidly falling behind his peers in class. Max did not trust anyone, and it was clear that he expected to be disliked and rejected by all who met him. Needless to say, his self-esteem was extremely poor, and he coped by belittling others and lying to cover up his own mistakes.
When Max first came to bestchance, he had no intention of trusting a therapist enough to ‘open up’. He arrived to his first session of play therapy angry and silent. He was expecting yet another adult to instruct him on how to improve himself, how to be kinder, how to behave better.
Instead, he was met with no expectations and a great deal of empathy where he was accepted and understood.
Slowly he became curious about the toys, and would listen to the therapist’s reflections about his play (while still trying hard to appear disinterested). His play reflected a high need for control, and he would repeatedly ‘kidnap’ the mother and father doll, punishing them by placing them in an imaginary jail. Occasionally his anger would flare during this play, as he tried to understand the rejection he felt over the loss of his own parents. His anger was met with calm, empathic responses that helped him feel understood, and gave him opportunities to practice redirecting his anger in appropriate ways.
Max began using the ‘feeling’ words that he had heard in therapy. Feeling understood – even during his worst behaviours – taught him that he was a lovable and valued person, and his improved self-esteem was evident in his greater resilience and kindness towards others.
His play in therapy began to change – he would feed the ‘parents’ treats and occasionally allow them to escape prison. At home, his emotional meltdowns were fewer and briefer. Eventually Max’s behaviours were indistinguishable from his peers, and he was able to finish play therapy. Of course he still grieved for his parents, and would occasionally regress, but his experience of empathy and limit-setting in the play therapy room had become a part of him, and he left therapy with a far greater capacity to manage his feelings, to express himself, to feel good about himself and to make better choices when he was angry or upset.
At bestchance we believe responding to children therapeutically to enhance their development and resolve significant behavioural issues is the critical difference between play therapy and simply ‘playing with’ a child. Using this approach can have a profound effect in improving the behaviours of children who would otherwise have gone through life feeling angry.
But we could not offer this amazing service if it were not for the support of people like you.
As a registered school the provision of support services such as play therapy are not funded but are a critical component of the support we give to children who enrol at The Cheshire School. As we approach the end of the Tax Year please consider making a donation to bestchance to support local families. Any amount, no matter how big or small, can help change a child’s life.