Developing Social Skills with Play Therapy
Social skills include the ways in which the child relates to others in order to make friends, get their needs met, be assertive, employ boundaries and cooperate. In order to develop social skills effectively, it is important that the child understands and experiences different behaviours and their consequences. To achieve this in play therapy, a therapist may use the following activities:
An imaginative pretend play to help the younger child learn about social skills and practice them. For example: if a child is engaged in playing as a mother, looking after and feeding the baby (doll), the counsellor could ask, “What should I do now? Dolly hasn’t eaten her cereal and I’m her big sister”. This gives the child an opportunity to interact with the counsellor in the imaginative pretend play, gaining empathy for the mother and also gaining an understanding of their own position as the big sister.
Puppets and soft toys can help the child learn and practice socially acceptable behaviours too. By getting involved in the puppet play with the child, the therapist can create situations that require the child to respond to various social situations by using their puppets. In this way, the child can indirectly explore the appropriateness of their own social behaviour.
For example: a therapist can invite the child to start the puppet show by introducing the characters.
Therapist: “Why don’t you show me all the characters in your play and introduce them one by one.”
As the child introduces the characters, the therapist can engage in a conversation with each character as it is presented. For example:
Therapist: “Hello Tom. I like your big red tie”.