Updated: Sep 11
As I sit here on the floor of my “play-based healing room” (aka my office), I am giggling and smiling as I look around.
I am lying here listening to Taylor Swift and drinking hot chocolate. I am surrounded by many things. Stuffies, toys, games, Barbie and Ken, Feelings BINGO, UNO, and even a giant stuffed elephant.
In this room we have so many games to PLAY! Even in virtual sessions, there are so many options like playing I-spy games in which finding pink and rainbows is as easy-peasy as 1-2-3...considering there are
a LOT of rainbows 🌈 in this room and pink 💖 is my favourite colour!
When your child is in the play-based healing program, they get to play! They get to connect with me through games, toys, and activities. They get to come in and choose the toys they desire to play with while using these to learn & grow in the ways they developmentally or behaviourally need.
It's a safe space for your child to belong and feel safe & seen for who they really are.
Now that's a little different than some types of support for children. And there are a lot of reasons why!
Why PLAY? Well, there is a ton of research 🤓 as to why, along with some really amazing personal anecdotes from my past clients 😀 So I chose to write this so I can share a bit of both in this blog post.
I know it can be hard as a parent when you sense that your child is struggling and not feeling their best. When you start to notice changes in their behaviour, mood, or well-being. It’s tough to know what the best approach to support them is. I see you and I know all you want is the best for your kiddo.
I want to share about my signature Play-Based Healing Program for children and give you the low-down on this modality and way of supporting kiddos! That way, you can start to see how it works for children and determine whether this type of support is the best next step for your child (and whatever you are navigating right now.)
Personally, growing up with some major health challenges and having been an extremely sensitive child, I learned the benefits of play the hard way and looooong overdue way. I was a highly intuitive child who often internalized shame and took on the emotions of others.
Yet I never really learned how to “feel and process” my own emotions.
I was a total goodie-goodie, always striving to make others happy, with a need to take care of others.
As I share about in my book "Eat PLAY Love", as a kid — I definitely was a total “people-pleaser”, perfectionist, and sensitive overachiever with a very heightened stress response because of all that trying to “get it right”, make everyone else happy, and be the “good kind kid”.
Talk about a lot of PRESSURE and not enough PLAYTIME. Cue bigger challenges later on…
Growing up highly sensitive, it was so easy for me to know how my friends, my mom, my dad, my sister, or anyone around me was feeling, but sometimes I didn’t know how to tune into my own feelings and emotions and understand what was mine vs. what was not. I honestly don’t even think I knew the difference between everyone else’s feelings and my own, let alone be able to know how to find my voice and express that. Because it was hard to hear what I needed. Which also made it difficult to make choices that honoured me or stand up for myself confidently.
I later learned the benefits of healing through play after my own long and traumatic journey healing from a brain injury in my twenties after trying basically every modality and type of healing/therapy/support. There were some that helped and some that really DID NOT as a highly sensitive human. So it’s safe to say I’ve had a lot of experience with all the ways to “heal”.
I can confidently say that play was the prescription I needed most and that finding the right person to support me was key. Just as, finding the "right fit" support when you are sensitive or have a sensitive child is also key to helping them when they are struggling & needing a new way forward.
After seeing many psychologists and therapists, and after quite a few (painful) neuropsychological assessments, treatments, and specialists in my past, I’ve learned a thing or two about the process of healing and helping people. What really matters in the therapeutic relationship and what works. What hurts more and what actually helps (especially if your child is energetically sensitive and needs a more intuitively guided or tailored approach to meet your family's needs!).
I say this not just with the practitioner or professional lens.
I know what it is like to be sent from person to person and not always feel like the system or the support “sees you” or supports you holistically. Or is actually guiding you to what you and your family need.
Sometimes you pay for a service that just makes things worse or points out more challenges or issues your child has (especially when sensory issues, learning difficulties, or self-esteem/confidence issues are involved in your child's journey. When your child is going through a challenging time, they need someone who can help them get to the other side of that — not something that is proving how hard of a time they are having and actually makes them feel worse.
The thing is: I personally needed someone who truly cared about me. Someone who “got me” and could truly see me in my wholeness. Who got the quirks and wonderful parts of me that I had forgotten about while I was in pain and needing help. My passions, my likes, my strengths, my unique traits and qualities (especially my energetically sensitive nature). Something I often share are my “sensitive superpowers”.
That's why I care so deeply about supporting sensitive children and helping them with their "sensitive superpowers" and any challenges that might entail too!
They often need something that is as unique as them! That honours all of the beautiful qualities that they embody and how to feel safer on the inside to live in a world that doesn't always honour sensitivity.
I didn’t need a clinical approach, to be diagnosed, labelled, or given more “fixing or managing symptoms”. Neither does your child. That's not what I do as a practitioner of play-based healing. And the thing is: "our focus is not on “reducing behaviours” in your child. It's seeing and supporting your child, guiding them the way they need to feel safer within themselves, to be able to connect with others while being themselves and finding better ways to communicate, express themselves and also have their needs/desires met.
Personally, what I needed was a safe space to feel seen, heard, and connected to.
Most importantly: I needed to take back my joy and start playing again.
Kids need the same. Especially when they are having a hard time.
Whether they are going through difficulties at school, in relationships, experiencing bullying, having sibling or friendship fights, experiencing challenges at home or at school, or having trouble feeling confident or finding their words, childhood can be vulnerable. It truly is FULL OF FEELINGS!
And play-based healing helps your child to play their way through those big feelings — to find their words and confidence. To know how to better meet their needs and speak their truth.
So much of the vulnerability of childhood could be made so much easier with the right kind of support. I still remember my second grade teacher Annabelle who was so warm and kind and had the biggest heart and sweetest way of connecting with her students, me included.
She truly cared. She spoke my language and she understood my sensitive nature and what made me “Amanda”. Something I will forever cherish. And that’s how I am with my clients.
I was reminded of something I shared in my book, Eat PLAY Love: A Recipe for Rewiring Your Brain, Finding Your FUN & Rediscovering YOU Again. It was the reminder that:
“I was not a patient that needed to be fixed; I was a person who needed to be loved.”
The thing about children is that PLAY is the way they learn.
PLAY is truly their love language. PLAY is the way they connect.
PLAY is the window into a child’s world. Into your child’s world. Their whole world.
And developmentally, sitting in a room and having to rigidly be forced to talk about their “feelings” (aka therapy) is not best for children to move through big feelings, emotions, or even traumatic/challenging life transitions such as divorce, death, loss, bullying, or friendship difficulties. Talking through this may help some kids, but it doesn’t support the developmental needs that children have.
Children have a basic need to PLAY! They also have a core need to CONNECT.
There is a fabulous quote that talks about how, unlike parents, at the end of a stressful or hard day, children don’t say:
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Instead, a child would say: “Can we play?”
I always think about a past play-based healing client who looked at me and once asked:
“Why do adults like to talk so much?” 🤣🤣
It made me laugh because she was right. Parents and adults often enjoy coaching or therapy because they learn through talking and processing (and other modalities too!).
But children: they PLAY. They need to PLAY and have someone to play with them who can teach them about regulating their nervous system, processing their emotions in new healthy ways, and speaking up for themselves (to hold the boundaries they need in order to honour their wellbeing, emotional health, and self-worth).
And let’s be honest:
Sometimes as a parent you’re all “played out” 😩😩 You may struggle to get into their world of play as much as they want you to. And sometimes the support they need is outside of the scope of what you can give (or simply hits too “close to home” because their emotions and needs may be connected to you, your parenting, or your family dynamics). And that’s okay. Because we are all human, and we can all benefit from a safe person outside of our immediate family to help us feel safe, feel seen, feel heard, and supported to have what we need.
You’re not failing as a parent if you need help for your child. Actually, I’d say the opposite. You’re winning.
In fact, a past parent (Julie), who had her daughter in the Play-Based Healing Program, felt that way and experienced a huge shift from enrolling her daughter in the program.
“I will be honest. Having to look to someone else for support with my daughter and her feelings and growth REALLY hit my EGO. A LOT. Haha.
But even though I've learned so much about all the things, sometimes your child just doesn't want to hear about it from you. I HAD TO GET REALLY OK ABOUT THAT.
And I'm glad I did because our entire family is winning from this!
It's SO important to understand how your child plays! That's where their feelings are. And once you start to understand their feelings, that is where the magic happens.”
As she said, play really is where the magic happens.
PLAY is the language your child learns through.
PLAY is the way your child can more easily find their words to communicate.
PLAY even helps to regulate their emotions.
PLAY really is the thing that helps your child feel truly safe to be their authentic selves. It even helps them to regulate their nervous system in the moments when you and your child are “butting heads”, feeling triggered, or stuck in “fight or flight”.
One parent I work with shared this after only 4 weeks of being in the Play-Based Healing Program:
“Me and Emaline have been butting heads since her birth. It's been a journey of many hard days, nights, and moments of wondering why we can't just get along.
Over the years I have found many ways to heal our relationship and tools that I've used. Some on the physical level, some the emotional, some the spiritual. And we've come a LONG WAY! BUT there has still been this pinch of resistance from both of us that keeps us in the same place.
We are very much alike - she is my biggest mirror! So yes, this has something to do with it, but I've always felt like I've been searching for the next thing I could bring to our relationship to help her through her feelings and mine. And then I met Amanda.
Amanda has many wonderful gifts and one of them is working with children through play. What is play-based healing? Well, that would be a blog post! [LOL this is a blog post!] There's so much to share! But the Coles Notes is to give your child a safe space to express their feelings through play.
One of my child’s go-to expressions is that she goes into fight or flight when she is feeling certain things. She will either become aggressive or she will run away - literally, to both (I've been kicked and jumped on and I've run around Costco or out of the park after her).
Amanda works one on one with Emaline, in virtual sessions, through play, and this allows us to understand her more and we are able to give her tools that will bring her back into a safe space more quickly when she is triggered by something.
We are only 4 weeks in and I am amazed at the difference these sessions have made in her ability to express how she is feeling. She's communicating more instead of going into her fight-or-flee reactions. I've been able to learn SO MUCH about her from the session take-aways that Amanda sends after each one. And she has SO MANY amazing tools and ideas on how to address a certain situation or recurring patterns through play, that Emaline has really enjoyed."
PLAY creates a safe space for children to bond and build a healthy attachment with others, and it gives your child the opportunity to have an ongoing safe connection that helps them learn new ways and tools to move through their challenges, difficulties, or big emotions.
Another parent, Naledi, shared:
“Since my 5-year-old son has taken the Play-Based Healing Program with Amanda, I have noticed much more space for emotions in our family. We are talking more about the emotions that we witness in each other. Amazingly, when we name the emotion, I can see an instant shift. The emotion is still present but less overwhelming. I see we are all taking more ownership for how we feel when the emotion is identified and that allows us to then honour the emotion and then take care of what we need. The most amazing shift was being coached and validated through our journey embracing anger. I really have begun to trust that all emotions are safe and valued!
Amanda helped me to believe that all emotions are welcome. As a parent, I did know that emotions are communicating to us but I couldn't trust that they were all safe. The space that Amanda created and all the validation and support she provided consistently showed me that. I would (and have) recommended Amanda to others!
Emotions are so important and I would hope more children and families are able to have support with understanding and embracing and communicating their feelings.”
I often use the toys to help children express themselves. We play and enter into their world through the toys and stuffies they choose, so instead of “the humans doing the talking”, we let “the toys do the talking” so your child can learn to speak and feel their emotions much more easily to get their needs met.
As shared in an article on play by Billy Brodovsky and Katie Kiernan, "We co-create safety with the child through the relationship that we develop with them...helping children to have a choice, and to feel like they have a voice”.
For example, one of my past child clients (Lily, Age 8) shared:
"I needed help talking and working out my feelings.
Amanda helped me to figure out my problems and say my feelings to my friends and family. What I found most helpful with Amanda was playing, sometimes sharing, and expressing my feelings.
I learned to not think about what other people feel and just tell my feelings to them. I think this happened because I got to use my stuffed animals to work it out and practise first before I told the person.
I would recommend Amanda to everyone. She's very good. Amanda's best qualities and strengths are speaking and telling her feelings and stories. Her braveness, smartness, and everything. I loved Amanda. I loved being able to share my feelings, play a lot, and that I could tell her anything."
As research by Stewart, Field, and Echterling (2016) says, “Symbolic play in the context of a caring relationship provides safe opportunities for the child to practise creative exploration, reenactment, and rehearsal for dealing with challenging emotions, people, and events.”
When we play, we get creative and we truly connect. We understand each other better and we strengthen our connection, communication, and attachment bond. We bond, and when we bond, we feel better; we are more confident, we are happier, we are healthier, and we even increase the levels of oxytocin secreted in our brain (that which lets us feel truly loved and healthy).
Stewart, Field, and Echterling (2016) note that “Oxytocin secretion is typically correlated with increased trust, reduced fear, and improved emotional regulation”. Also, according to Karyn Purvis, “Scientists have discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions”.
What that really means is that play is a more powerful way for transformation to happen for your child and even rewire positive changes in the brain than another way of helping them!
But better than me typing it and telling you about it, play-based healing for your child with me is a bit like this scene in Mary Poppins!
But replace “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” with “sessions of play help the problems to go away” (and help your child receive what they truly need!).
What someone once said about the work I do is that I help children make sense of their feelings through play. I help children find their words when they are having a hard time. I help children know that they are loved and that there is someone in the world who truly “gets them”.
One of my Master Life Coach mentors recently said that what we all need is “someone who gives a sh*t”. The truth is, your child doesn’t need to be assessed or diagnosed until they feel worse about themselves. What they need is someone who truly gives a sh*t and can see them in their wholeness beyond the struggles or symptoms (yet can help them to move through this to a happier life where they get to thrive being themselves in the world)!
Working with me is a bit like Mr. Rogers meets Mary Poppins, and add in a little Miss Rachel singing you some songs or the Wiggles dancing it out. Well, only if that is the way your child likes to play. Because other times it could be like monster trucks, LEGO, stuffies, bracelet making, cookie baking, puppet playing, Minecraft colouring pages, babies, grocery store, or Barbie-land come to life! This is the safe space where your child gets to choose!
We may play Twister, create our own unique game, or drink hot chocolate together! 😊
It truly is a program created for your child (by your child’s needs and desires)! To help make those areas of growth, struggles, or disabilities/difficulties get easier and transformed by love.
Whatever area of growth or challenge your child has, they will be supported through the program to meet them where they are at and get them where they desire to be. While filling you in on any tools or support that will help you and your child to thrive!
I’d love to support your child and family in the Play-Based Healing Program. Click the button below for more details about the program.
Or click below to book a complimentary 30-minute Consult.
I would LOVE to get to know you better, hear more about what is going on for your child, and see if play-based healing or another support is aligned to help them through whatever they are going through - to get to the other side.
Kind of like the joke, why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side! 😜 (Okay, okay, but the truth is we also sometimes play with rubber chickens in play-based healing sessions and it really does help get your child to the other side. So the joke truly seems fitting! 🤣🤣)
See you on the other side. And, to end off on a playful note, here is a playful song called “The Other Side” from one of my fave musical movies, The Greatest Showman.
If you have any questions about Play-Based Healing, and if it is the next best step for your child (and family), send me your questions at email@example.com.
Thinking of you with love and gratitude,