3 Tips for Parents in the Play Therapy Room

by Toriann Clarke MA, LPC, NCC

Play Therapy is an expressive form of therapy for children that may assist with managing trauma and challenging behaviors. Play Therapy often takes place in a room where there is a variety of objects, such as sand trays, doll houses, dolls, puppets, or miniature toys (Higgins-Klein, 2013). It is a place where creativity and self-expression take place. When children enter the Play Therapy room, they know exactly what will be taking place… playing. When parents enter the Play Therapy room, they are often uncertain of what to expect and how to manage it. Here are a few tips to help parents understand the Play Therapy room.

Tip #1 No Stresses over Messes:

The Play Therapy room is a messy place. Oftentimes many parents feel the need to treat the Play Therapy room as a traditional counseling space, living room, doctor’s office or classroom. There are many limitations placed on children in their various environments. The Play Therapy room is the space for a child to not feel burdened by limitations of expression. It is a space for them to feel grand, powerful, and safe. There are going to be transitions from one activity to the next without cleaning up. Sand will fall out of the tray and objects will be used for things other than their intended purpose. When these things inevitably happen, let it be. The clinician will be able to clean up at the end and restore the room to its original state.

Tip #2 Express Your Inner Child:

Most parents have that creative, imaginative space inside of them. When they were younger, playing with dolls or action figures, baking a cake in the play kitchen, or singing a pop song to all of their fans were things that they enjoyed doing. Parents engage in pretend play when they dress up for holidays or conventions. When in the Play Therapy room I encourage parents to allow themselves the freedom to get into character. That can be done by creating special voices for the characters, names, and other unique features. The more invested the parents are in the play, the more invested their children become in sharing their experiences.

Tip #3 Hold your Questions:

Play Therapy is a unique form of child therapy that may yield extraordinary results. It all comes with time and the belief that it can happen. Parents ask questions or make comments out of genuine curiosity and concern when engaging in a family session. The commentary is most helpful to ask when you and/or your child are not actively in play in order to not disrupt the process. Some of these questions and comments include “What does this mean?”, “I’m not understanding what’s happening”, “What am I supposed to learn from this?”. Questions about what may be taking place in the play when parents are present may deter children from expressing more with parents in the room or even without parents present. I encourage parents to ask these questions when not actively in play. The best time for questions and comments is in the beginning in regard to expectations and roles.

Play Therapy is a very personal experience and the Play Therapy room can be a sacred space where a child shares their innermost concerns and fears. This space can and will get messy, have noise, and parents pretending to be fire trucks and talking horses. When parents treat the space with the same regard as their child, deeper healing can occur.


Higgins-Klein, D. (2013). Mindfulness- based play- Family therapy theory and practice. W.W. Norton