Tag Archives: Parenting

How playing can reduce anxiety in children


Research suggests that children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their anxiety levels on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the view that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety.


The case of Dibs, a 5-year old boy who showed very disturbed behaviour shows the importance of play for dealing with issues (Axline, 1947). Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy, for very disturbed behaviour. His parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.


Sloan (1999) examined whether play therapy could be used to reduce aggressive behaviour in children in New York. The study found that play therapy is effective for reducing aggressive behaviour.




How can a parent use play at home to deal with anxiety?


Parents can use toy figures and role play to work through fears and other issues with their children. For example, if your child is worried about going to the doctors, you can role play doctors with them or encourage them to play doctors with their dolls or teddies. If your child is frightened of the dark, you can pretend that a toy figure is being put to bed in the dark and your child can talk about their fears. Another toy figure can be used to dispel fears. Any monsters or ghosts that turn up in the role play can be changed into something non-threatening. You can get your child to imagine what the toy figures/dolls would do if they were very brave (Jay et al., 1987).



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Want your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy  adventure story aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds.

How do you deal with a difficult child?


So your child is being difficult? You’ve tried everything but their behaviour just seems to be getting worse. You’ve banned computer games, you’ve taken away prized possessions, you’ve lectured them, you’ve shouted at them, you’ve offered rewards but still your child isn’t doing what you want. You’re at the end of your tether and you just don’t know what to do.

Sometimes just connecting with a difficult child can improve things.  So how do you connect with your child if their defiant, aggressive and uncooperative?

Instead of seeing yourself as a parent that needs to control your child’s behaviour, see yourself as person who is helping your child to manage their emotions. Shifting your mindset to see yourself as an emotion coach rather than a disciplinarian can change the dynamic.

When children are being defiant, aggressive and uncooperative, it’s probably because they’re feeling angry and unloved. You might say, ‘How can my child possibly feel unloved? I adore them.’ However, if you’re not connecting with your child, they may certainly feel misunderstood.

Mirroring your child’s emotions can help you feel connected. This means that when they’re angry, happy or sad about something, you show understanding and empathy.


Recently, my son seemed angrier and more defiant than usual. It was the end of the half-term at his new school and he was tired. I had also started a new job and was stressed. I decided I needed to spend more time connecting with him. So when he said he was angry that his friends had messed up the Minecraft Lego models that he built, instead of playing it down, I showed him that I understood his feelings. The conversation went like this:

‘Last time my friends came round, they messed up my Minecraft Lego.’

‘That’s really annoying.’

‘Yes, and they took this bit off and I can’t find the piece to it back together again.’

‘How annoying is that.’

‘And now some of my Lego is mixed up,’

‘They mixed your Lego up.’

‘Yes, it was the worst day of my life.’

‘It must have felt like the worst day of your life if all your Lego got messed up.’

‘Yes, I never want my friends to do that again.’

‘Next time your friends come, we’ll have to put any  Lego sets away that you don’t want them to touch.’

‘Yes, we could do that.’


At the end of the conversation, my son seemed satisfied that he’d been understood. Sometimes, when I have tried to minimise any anger or upset he feels, it has fueled his negative feelings rather than diminishing them. Mirroring his feelings helped him to reflect on what he was actually saying and showed him that I understood how he felt.

It is also important to mirror positive feelings. For example, when he said he was excited about going to a restaurant, I showed that I felt excited too. When he talked to me about a computer game, I listened to what he felt about the different characters and tried to connect with what he was saying.

After just a few days, I noticed that he seems more cooperative and happy.


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