Skip to content

Play Therapy – Stepping into the inner world of the children

She doesn’t say a word but she is expressing.

She doesn’t cooperate as she refuses to follow.

When Shan Shan (nickname) entered the playroom, she started to use the toys to poke my leg and then placed them onto my arm. She stared at me and smiled without saying a word. Most adults might see these behaviors as challenging their bottom line or drawing attention. However, I believe that Shan Shan was just trying to approach me using the toys and wanted to establish a relationship with me.

“You are greeting me in a special way!” I said.

Shan Shan continued to place the toys onto my other arm until they all dropped onto the ground. She laughed happily and I laughed too. Then, she went to play with the toys on her own.

(The photo is not the case in the article)

When I told Shan Shan that the play session was over, she splashed the sand from the sandbox over the floor, stared at me and smiled again. “I know that you are unwilling to leave the playroom, but you can only play with the sand in the sandbox. We will come back here to play again next week,” I told her.

Shan Shan continued to splash sand from the sandbox. I repeated my words slowly a few times and gave Shan Shan some time to make decision. But she just kept splashing.

(The photo is not the case in the article)

“If you choose not to leave on your own, that means that you choose to let your dad or mum to pick you up,” I still allowed Shan Shan to choose by herself. She eventually chose to be picked up by her parents.

From then on, Shan Shan never poked me with the toys, nor splashed the sand over the ground. Every time the play session was over, she would leave the playroom with me on time.

Although Shan Shan didn’t say a word, she still wished to establish a relationship with the Play Therapist. I accepted her using the toys as a greeting, which made her feel at ease and able to focus on free play. I also gave her freedom to explore and allowed room for expression, but that doesn’t mean I permitted all of her behaviors. I set up rules and offered choices to Shan Shan for her to experience self-determination – nurturing her sense of responsibility and training her ability for self-control. Shan Shan came to understand that the sand should only be played with in the sandbox and that she had to leave the playroom when the play session was over. By setting up rules for them, children learn to develop their ability of self-control.

(The photo is not the case in the article)
(The photo is not the case in the article)

He doesn’t let go because he cherishes.

His creativity requires freedom.

Chun Chun (nickname) took his beloved toy car with him wherever he went. He always played the same type of game and was unwilling to try new things. When he came to the playroom for the first time, he brought his toy car with him.

“You love your toy car very much, but it doesn’t belong in the playroom. You can put it in your school bag or ask your mum to keep it for you,” I told Chun Chun.

“I want to keep it myself,” Chun Chun replied.

“You can put it in the school bag and take it out after the play session,” I said.

Chun Chun put the toy car in his school bag and placed the school bag in the corner of the playroom. He didn’t take it out before the play session was over.

Chun Chun didn’t let go because he cherishes the toy car. As a Play Therapist I accepted his thought, but set up rules and offered choices to him at the same time, so that he could enjoy the play time without distraction.

In the beginning, Chun Chun would only play a few types of games. I let him decide how to play, observing the way he played as well as his emotional state; appreciating his attentiveness, creativity and concentration. Gradually, Chun Chun started to play with other toys. Sometimes he even created his own play methods and invited me to join.

Every child has creativity. When children consistently feel cared for, valued, understood and accompanied by adults, they can explore freely and unleash their creativity.

Connecting with a child is more important than changing a child (Master of Play Therapy – Dr. Garry Landreth)

Shan Shan’s and Chun Chun’s insistence and non-cooperation require adults’ respect, understanding and appreciation. The playroom is a place for children to develop trust, self-awareness, self-control – a place for them to unleash potential. Play Therapists adopt the most fundamental approach – building relationships with children by accompanying and caring for them, which is more important than solving their problem behaviors.

Play Therapy Q & A

Q1:What is Play Therapy?

A1:“Birds fly, fish swim, and children play”, (Landreth,1991). A Play Therapy Service for children is just like a counseling service for adults. “Play” is the most natural medium for children to express themselves, and Play Therapy allows children to express feelings through play that are hard to express verbally.[1]

Q2:Who can benefit from the Play Therapy Service?

A2:While all children can benefit from Play Therapy, it is particularly effective for children who are suffering from emotional problems, behavioral problems, and social and learning difficulties.

Q3:What is in the playroom?

A3:Toys and materials in the playroom are all under careful selection and are divided into 3 categories: daily-life toys, aggressive-release toys and creative expression toys. These toys, in Play Therapy, are considered as the expressive medium for children.

Q4:What is the difference between Play Therapy and ordinary play?

A4:The Play Therapist will create an atmosphere that can facilitate relationship building with the child. The Play Therapist also cares about everything the child does and sincerely accepts the feelings and behaviors of the child during Play Therapy. This helps the child to understand their own problems and find the solutions.

Q5:How to participate in the Play Therapy Service?

A5:The two Children & Family Services Centres of Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children provide a child-centered Play Therapy Service. Please contact us if you would like to know more about the service.

Q6:Who provides the Play Therapy Service to the children?

A6:Play Therapists or social workers provide professional support to children in need through the Play Therapy Service. They have all received professional training and possess the professional knowledge and skills of Play Therapy.

Q7:How many sessions of Play Therapy do my children need to complete?

A7:In general, children having emotional problems can see improvement after a short course of  Play Therapy sessions (usually 10 to 12 sessions or less). Play Therapists can also arrange more intensive session to children (2 to 3 sessions per week) depending on their need.[2] Play Therapists provide consultation to parents before and after a play session.

Q8:My child always hits the toys fiercely. Does he/she have violent behavior? My child always talks to the doll. Does he/she have autism?

A8:I don’t define a child as having special needs based on a single behavior. Instead, I try to understand his/her emotional state when hitting the toys. What is the cause of such behavior? What is he/she saying to the doll?

We have to observe and listen attentively to the inner voices of the children. Every child expresses themselves in different ways, some are easier to comprehend while some may need more patience to observe.

We can respond to children’s emotions immediately and set up rules for them. For example, we can say, “I understand that you are very angry, but toys are not for hitting. You can choose to hit the pillow instead.” When children talk to the doll, we can respond, “I know you have something very important to tell the doll.”

Q9:The children can play freely and choose not to tidy up the toys in the playroom. Will they not follow rules at home?

A9:The children can choose whether to tidy up the toys during Play Therapy. In some cases, asking children to tidy up the toys in the playroom is an alternative way of treatment by undoing their imagination and expected change.[3] In fact, children are very smart and they know that the rules are different at home, at school, and at the playroom. Once a child said to me, “I don’t have to tidy up the toys in playroom, but I have to do it at home!”

Q10:My child needs me all the time and keeps saying, “Mum, please help me…”, “Mum, look at this…”. My child depends on me so much, what should I do?

A10:Play Therapy holds strong the belief that nurturing children’s problem-solving skills and setting up rules for them is vitally important.

When your child asks you to solve problems for him/her or respond immediately, you can try to say,

“You can do it by yourself and I will come and look in 15 minutes.”

“I know you want me to see it now, but I am doing housework. I will come to see it in 15 minutes.”

[1] Hong Kong Academy of Play Therapy (Hong Kong)

[2] Play Therapy – The Art of the Relationship”, Chapter 16

[3] Tom Yuen (2019). “遊戲治療師手記”. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Professional Counseling & Consulting Association.

“Me & You” parent-child play time

With the pandemic, we now have more time to be with children. It’s a good idea for parents to set up a 30-minute “Me & You” parent-child play time every week. During this period, put aside all the housework and electronic devices, accompany the children to do things they like and step into their inner world!

Building the trust through Play Therapy and caring for the need of the children

The children-centered Play Therapy service allows children to express their feelings freely through games, and to receive understanding, care and companion from adults. This helps them learn how to build mutual, trusting relationships with other people. Our two Children & Family Services Centres have been providing the Play Therapy Service to children from low-income families for free, without any financial support from the government. Let us strive together to care for the needs of the children, so that every child in society can grow up healthy and happy.

If you or your organisation are interested in supporting the Play Therapy Service, or have any enquiries, please contact our Children & Family Services Centres.

Children & Family Services Centre (Sham Mong Districts)

Tel: 2309 1690


Children & Family Services Centre (Kowloon City)

Tel: 2760 8111