Play Therapy with Madi


Madi is Cali’s developmental therapist who comes to our house twice a week to work on Cali’s various goals. Today one of the goals she focused on was teaching Cali to work on using functional play skills to cooperatively play with peers. On different occasions, Madi has observed Cali playing with a peer. From those observations she has found that Cali struggles with staying engaged, especially if the play involves two or more objects. When the play is based around active, free play (i.e., rough housing, hide and seek, tickling, becoming animals or monsters, etc.), she has an easier time staying in tune with her playmate, but at times will still wander into her own ideas and leave the partner behind.  In order to teach Cali how to stay engaged and use appropriate play, Madi uses a naturalistic approach. Meaning she gets on the floor with her, always trying to stay at eye level and mostly follows/imitates her lead.

A description of the video:
Cali’s birthday is today and the two toys she is playing with are birthday presents she opened earlier this morning. The new toys are extremely exciting to Cali which made playing difficult. Much of this video is Cali playing w her own ideas and not including Madi. Occasionally she will talk to Merida but doesn’t really recognize Madi is the one playing Merida. In order to keep Cali engaged, Madi mostly imitates what Cali says or does. If Cali would have been more engaged, Madi could have introduced some new ideas to the play.

Here is what it looks like…


Here are some vital tips to remember when exercising play therapy:

1. Imitate the child to keep them engaged.

2. Only introduce new ideas to the play when you can see the child fully engaged.

3.If you introduce new ideas and seem to lose the child, go back to imitating or use high affect to pull the child back in.

4. Test whether or not the child is fully engaged. To do this, you can remove yourself completely from the play. Walk away not saying a word. If the child looks up or signals she has notice you leaving, then you know she was engaged. If she continues her play without the slightest notion you have left, you know there is no engagement.


Remember this: If you want your child to be fully engaged with playing, choose an activity that is active and requires no toys or objects. Activities I listed above (tickling, rough housing, etc.). Why? Because in these play situations you are a key element. If you are not there to tickle or rough house, then no tickling or rough housing is going to take place. In these play situations gauge the child’s engagement level and assess whether or not he or she is capable of moving on to more complex play such as playing dolls, playing with trains on a train track, etc. Make sense? Everything is a process, but you must begin a the lowest level and build from there. If the child doesn’t know how to stay engaged in a simple active play, then they certainly are not going to be able to engage themselves in playing barbies or G.I. Joes. Makes sense to me.

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