Our daughter Bella is nearly 4 years old. She is a well adjusted, happy little girl. Most parents might find this a normal thing to say, but for us it’s a huge accomplishment. You see, in the past 18 months, our daughter has been right there beside her parents as we went through the most traumatic times of our lives. We lost twin boys last May, after a week long battle with the hospital, and she was there for nearly every part.
Recently, after a very high-risk pregnancy, our son was born full term but passed away 3 weeks later in Children’s Hospital due to a rare heart condition.
While we’ve tried our hardest to keep her little life from being rocked any further, there is only so much we can do to help her process, or even explain, what happened. Why we all waited for months for her brothers and then I end up in the hospital… and no brother ever comes home.
It’s a hard thing to grasp as an adult. As a 2 or 3-year-old, I can’t imagine what she must have thought and is still thinking.
After we lost the twins, her pediatrician recommended a play therapist to help her process. We weren’t sure what on earth that even meant or what it would do for a child who was so young. She’d turned from a happy-go-lucky 2-year-old to a clingy child who reacted very emotionally, to everything that happened, in a matter of weeks. Dealing with our own grief, we felt helpless in the face of Bella’s.
For the past year, she’s been in play therapy once a week. I’ve been able to sit in on several sessions to see what goes on, as well as receive updates from her therapist about her progress and helpful tips to use at home. Starting next month, she’ll start going again to help with the loss of our son Kaden, who she did get to meet.
Play therapy has changed all of our lives for the better. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who asks about it for their child, and it’s not just for a child handling a loss. As a teacher, I had children in my classroom whose parents were divorcing, or had a major life change, and they ended up in play therapy to help them process.
“A safe, confidential, and caring environment is created which allows the child to play with as few limits as possible but as many as necessary (for physical and emotional safety).” - PlayTherapy.org
If your child is recommended for play therapy, here are some things I’ve learned that help with the process:
- Ask to sit in on the first few sessions – most of the time this will be encouraged with younger children.
- Find out how often your child’s therapist will bring you up to date on their progress.
- See if there is anything they do in therapy that you could continue at home.
- Ask how long they usually work with children who have similar circumstances.
- Remember that this is your child’s time to process. You wouldn’t want your parent to ask you what you talked about in therapy or if you had a “nice time” there, so talk with the therapist about appropriate questions/responses to your child.
Play therapy could be considered before, during, and/or after any kind of life change or trauma. A teacher or doctor might recommend it to you, or you may look into it yourself.
Even though it’s easy for society to place the “sorry your child needed help” stigma on you as their parent, it’s actually such a gift to give a developing child who might be struggling with something and unable to express it in a way that adults will be able to comprehend. It allows children the freedom to play and interact organically without interruption or being told that they need to do something a certain way.
Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post. Smaller glimpses into her day are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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