Unlocking Emotional Expression Through Play: A Guide for Parents
In the intricate world of parenting, deciphering the language of a child’s emotions can be a challenging task. How can we help our little ones articulate the nuances of their feelings, fears, and joys? The answer lies in the magical realm of play therapy. This blog delves into the transformative role of play in unlocking emotional expression and provides practical tips for parents to seamlessly integrate play into their homes.

The Power of Play Therapy:
Play therapy, a time-tested psychological approach, offers children a safe and natural channel for emotional expression. Much like adults use words to communicate, children utilize play to convey their inner worlds. Through imaginative play, storytelling, and creative activities, kids can explore and express emotions that may be difficult to articulate verbally. Play therapy becomes a bridge between the unspoken and the understood, fostering emotional growth and resilience.

Understanding the Playful Language:
Children often struggle to put their feelings into words, but through play, they create a language all their own. Watch for themes in their play, pay attention to the characters they choose, and observe the dynamics at play. These are the breadcrumbs that lead to a deeper understanding of their emotional landscape. Acknowledge their play and join in, becoming a co-pilot in their imaginary adventures.

Practical Tips for Parents:

1. Create a Safe Space:

  • Dedicate a designated play area where your child feels secure and free to express themselves without judgment.
  • Keep a variety of toys, art supplies, and props to encourage different forms of play.

2. Join the Play:

  • Be an active participant in your child’s play. Engage in their imaginary worlds, play along with their chosen themes, and let the narrative unfold organically.

3. Use Play as a Conversation Starter:

  • After a play session, discuss what happened during the playtime. Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings.

4. Integrate Emotionally Charged Toys:

  • Include dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures that represent various emotions. This allows your child to project their feelings onto these characters, making it easier to discuss emotions indirectly.

5. Storytelling and Art:

  • Encourage drawing, painting, or storytelling as additional outlets for emotional expression. This provides alternative mediums for your child to communicate their inner world.


Unlocking emotional expression through play is a journey that strengthens the parent-child bond and nurtures emotional intelligence. By embracing the language of play therapy, parents become not just observers but active participants in their child’s emotional growth. As we navigate the intricate landscape of parenting, let play be the compass that guides our understanding of the beautiful, ever-evolving emotional universe within our children.


About the Author:

Sabra Starnes, LICSW, LCSW, LCSW-C, RPT-S, M.Ed Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, Parenting Consultant

With over 23 years of experience in the field, Sabra Starnes is a seasoned Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor. Her expertise lies in empowering parents to navigate the complex landscape of childhood emotions and behaviors. Sabra is not only a dedicated professional but also a devoted mother, wife, and grandmother.

Having called the Maryland area home for over two decades, Sabra understands the unique challenges and joys that come with family life in the region. Through her blend of clinical knowledge and personal experience, she strives to guide families towards fostering healthy emotional expression through play.

We are accepting new clients!

Next Place Therapy Services, LLC is a female black-owned group therapy practice in Largo, Maryland. We have immediate openings. Call 301-531-4227 to discuss how we can support your child or teen in starting therapy.

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