What’s the best psychotherapy for 3-to-5-year-olds?

Abbass asks: What type of child psychology is between the years 3 to 5?

Hi Abbass –

If I understand your question right, you’re asking about what sorts of psychotherapy are administered to children between the ages of 3 and 5.  And the answer is pretty simple:  Play.

We all see that cliché image of psychotherapy, where the patient lies on a couch and tells the doctor about their past, especially their memories of their childhood.  Well kids can’t do that!  They don’t have much of a past, and that childhood is going on right now, not in some memory!  Also, children’s cognition isn’t yet at a level where they’re able to have the self-awareness an adult has.

But kids do have the most wonderful therapeutic tool, which is an enormous desire to Play!  And while Play may look silly and fun, it’s actually the way children learn the most, and act out what’s going on inside them.

Think about us dogs, when we’re puppies.  What do we do all day?  We tumble and fight and play really roughly with each other.  That’s because the most important thing a puppy needs to learn is how to fight!  We’re born knowing how to walk, eat, drink, and so forth.  But we need to learn how to hunt, how to defend ourselves, and how to get along with others.  So our instinct is to play-fight, for at least our first year or two.

Humans, on the other hand, spend their first year or two learning basic behaviors – walking, talking, the beginnings of toilet training.  And play takes on many more “colors” with humans.  Children will play with dolls, play with trucks, play sports and games, draw, paint… and, yeah, fight just like puppies!  And all of this can be used in psychotherapy.  Some therapists analyze what the kids create (using art therapy or Sandtray techniques), while others work with the child at their own rate and help the child grow through their own process.  Both work beautifully with the right therapist.

So if you’re looking for someone for a child that age, I recommend finding someone who is well-prepared for a lot of play-work.  And later, when the kids are over 12 or 14 or so, then they might be more in a position to start talking!




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