Encouraging children to express their stress through surrogate caretaking is a relatively effective type of play therapy that is easy to implement and can be adapted to just about any situation. It works well for preschool and elementary-aged children.
What is it?
Play therapy via surrogate caretaking gives a child the responsibility of looking after a special stuffed animal that they are told needs their help and care. The child then plays the role of caretaker over the animal for whatever time they remain interested. This gives children something to project their own emotions onto, which can ease their own anxiety. The process of caregiving allows kids to focus on something they can control, thus alleviating anxiety. And through the process of caregiving, they are able to comfort themselves, because each time they care for the surrogate or offer comfort to the animal through play, they strengthen their own coping mechanisms.
This process works well for younger children who have endured traumatic experiences such as a war or violence in the family, or for kids who are experiencing family turmoil or disruption, such as a divorce or homelessness. It's also a good therapy following a natural disaster.
Step 1: Get the child a surrogate to care for
This technique is usually done with stuffed animals, since non-human figures tend to allow more distance and encourage a broader range of emotional expression. It can also be done with baby dolls, but small, portable stuffed animals or beanie bag animals tend to work the best. Here are some other tips that will help you get the most out of this process: