What to Expect

Explaining Play Therapy to Your Child

Parents often ask how to explain play therapy to their child(ren) or if they should even tell their child they will be receiving “counseling” or “therapy”. Hopefully the following suggestions may be helpful to you in telling your child where they are going and what they are doing here. Please consider your child’s age and situation as some may not apply.


  • Tell your child that she will come for a play time (or to see someone if your child is older) to help him or her:
    • feel better (about school, about…)
    • feel less sad
    • feel less angry
    • feel less scared
  • Tell your child she will come to a room with toys and they may play or they may talk or both.
  • Tell your child that this play time is not “a test” or “an exam”, etc. He or she is not expected to do anything but to play or talk as she wishes.
  • Explain that sometimes this person may talk to daddy or mommy during the play time (when parents are present in session) or before/after your play time (when parents are not in session). This person will meet parents to find out how you are and plan how to help you.
  • Tell your child that this play time will usually last about an hour and may happen every week or every other week


  • Tell your child that she is bad
  • Tell your child that she is the problem
  • Tell your child that she is sick
  • Tell your child that someone will observe her in play and give advice
  • Tell him or her to listen to the “therapist” and to do whatever (s)he’s asked to do
  • Tell him or her to “behave” or “be good” in session
  • Put pressure on your child to talk about her problems, etc.
  • Tell your child how much the session costs or that it is expensive, etc. This may increase children’s worries or anxieties about their “performance” in sessions. This may also make children feel guilty or blamed.

Other information you may want to consider telling your child (depending on their age and nature of concern)

  • Mommy takes you to play with this person/or see this therapist because sometimes it is hard to talk about your feelings.
  • This person will try to help you feel better by playing. Kids play about their feelings better than they talk about them.
  • Mommy takes you to play with this person/or see this therapist because: (for example)
    • Sometimes you feel sad or angry, etc
    • You are scared about_______, you are worried about ______, etc
    • Mommy wants you to sleep better, enjoy going to school, eat better, etc.
  • This person (therapist), most of the time, will try not tell other people (including mommy and daddy) about what you do or talk about during play time. Sometimes this person (Play Therapist) will have to tell other grown ups if they are really worried about you – it is really important that other people know if you are not safe but he or she will always try to talk to you first before telling other grown ups about this.
  • Your play time is not a secret. You can talk about what you’ve been doing to anyone if you want to, but you don’t have to. If you feel like keeping it to yourself, that’s OK.

Other Do’s and Don’ts between sessions

  • Try not to force your child to come to play sessions. If there is a problem bringing your child to session, please call or email your therapist to consult
  • Do not give consequences or any punishments if your child refuses to come to his or her play sessions
  • Try not to bribe your child to go to play sessions. For example, if you go to see this person, I will take you to MacDonald’s afterwards.
  • If your child shows you a painting or some of her sandplay after her sessions, use encouragement rather than praise. For example: “You’re really proud of you’re work” rather than“Wow…you did good”
  • Before the session, don’t tell your child “to behave” during his or her play time
  • After the session, don’t ask your child “Did you behave?” “Did you listen to ____?” “Did you help clean up?” “Did you do what she asked you to?”
  • After the session, try not to ask your child “How do you like it?” Sometimes it is hard for children to articulate their experience in play therapy. Sometimes children are also afraid to upset parents. Instead, speak with the therapist about your child’s progress.
  • If your child shows you her sandplay in the sandtray:
    • Try not to touch any objects in the tray
    • Try not to make guesses or interpretations about what he or she put in the tray
    • Thank your child for showing you his or her play
    • You can say something neutral, ” I see that there are a lot of things you put in there, I see different colors, I wonder if you have spent a lot of time working on this, etc.”