3 Play Therapy Tips for Working with the Quiet Child

PsychCentral – Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA – September 7, 2014

Play therapy is an approach to therapy that allows children to express themselves, heal from hurts, and experience personal growth through the medium of toys and activities rather than words as is done through traditional therapy and most adult therapies.

Even though the process of play therapy is based on play and not words, sometimes verbal communication is still used in play therapy. It often helps the therapist to learn more about a child’s experience and helps the child express themselves when the child is able to use verbal communication while also playing with puppets, doing an art project, and/or using a sand tray.

When a child comes into your office who does not seem to express themselves verbally very much, it could be due to a number of different reasons, such as anxiety, depression, shyness, lack of confidence, introversion, mistrust, feelings of shame or guilt, etc. When a child is quiet in a therapy session, a therapist (especially a new therapist) might not know what to do. It can be even more difficult when the child is hesitant in their actions, when they are hesitant to even play or initiate activities.


1. Build trust and rapport

Particularly at the beginning of therapy, a play therapist can help a quiet child by explaining to them what the purpose of therapy is and what the therapist’s role is. Also, help them to feel more at ease by validating any feelings or thoughts that they do express.

2. Learn about the child’s likes

During the intake and initial sessions, the therapist can learn about what the child likes. Of course, in future sessions a therapist can find out more about the child and who they are as an individual. Understanding what the child likes can help the child to feel connected and more comfortable because topics and activities they are most comfortable with in their everyday life will likely help the therapy room to feel more comfortable, as well. Also, their topics of interest are likely areas which can be used in therapy to help them express and process their feelings and connect with the therapist.

3. It’s okay to be quiet

New therapists (and maybe some not so new therapists) may feel like there has to be conversation occurring frequently throughout the session. It is okay to have periods of time in which no one is talking. Part of play therapy is allowing the unconscious, subconscious, and conscious experiences of the child process, heal and grow. Sometimes talking can interrupt this effort. (Talking can also help, but a therapy session does not have to include constant conversation.)

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