Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Enlarging the Meaning

As a play therapist student back in the day, our big time goal in a play session was "Enlarging the Meaning" with our clients.  It was hard enough learning the whole Play Therapy language: tracking statements, reflecting feelings, etc but the 'Enlarging the Meaning' was the hardest.  And for you new blog readers out there, yes, Play Therapy has its own language.  It takes practice, in fact, I have one funny story about just that.  I was training a client's mom in our 'language' to use in her own home, and her son one day told her, "Mommy, you talk funny, you talk like Miss Kira," :)

But let's back up one second and go over the whole non-directive thing. Remember that when you have 'quality' play time with your child, reserve at least 15-30 minutes of UNINTERRUPTED play. No cell phones, no tv, no cooking dinner or other family around.  Schedule this time for just the 2 of you.

Non-directive means the child leads the play session.  You don't suggest what to play with and no subjective statements. Just sum up what you see, and mention feelings you see as much as possible. The general underlying message you want to send your child is:

"I am fully here. I accept all of you. I hear you."

(More info about this special playtime here.)

So back to, what is Enlarging the Meaning?  It means as you are playing with your child in a non-directive way, you sum up a few minutes of their play with a REALLY BIG objective (somewhat subjective) statement.

Like if a child is playing with dolls in the doll house and the mommy keeps punishing the kids, sending to room/timeout and the child dolls begin to cry.  For awhile you would be reflecting feelings of sadness/anger and tracking the play about children getting in trouble.

Then I would make an Enlarging the Meaning statement such as: "Hmm, sometimes kids can feel lots of feelings when they get in trouble; they can feel really sad and also really angry and sometimes they feel this towards their mom."


It doesn't sound like much, but when you have been fully present with a child in a play session, making this big statement sums up and the child usually feels like, "WOW, SHE HEARD ME!"  It can definitely help the child feel heard and understood.

Sometimes if you are wrong in your statements, the child will let you know. Ha! But most of the time when I make these statements, the child looks up at me with huge bug eyes, like, "Wow, you do understand! And I'm not getting in trouble for thinking the same thing!"

As for my home play sessions lately, let's be honest, I sadly haven't been having as many quality play times with my child. And I recognize it more in her behavior as she gets clingy and temper tantrumy. AND I haven't been giving it the full 30 minutes, so it's hard to get an Enlarging the Meaning statement in there, since you have to be playing for awhile to use it.  But I am going to schedule more playtimes in my calendar so they actually get done!

You have no idea how powerful special playtimes are with your child.  If you have noticed your child acting out, throwing tantrums, feeling sad/anxious/depressed or stressed, I can not recommend this quality non-directive playtime enough. You will see a huge difference in your child if you can manage it once a week :)