Accepting a child during a Play Therapy session is not just about tolerance. It is also about allowing the child to be themselves in a safe and informed way.
Accepting the child as he or she is - is with a Play Therapy therapist an active and conscious action and attitude, not a passive toleration. I wrote tolerance because acceptance is often confused with tolerance. Acceptance is consent, acknowledgement, permission. Tolerance is forbearance, leniency, liberality and compliance. The very synonyms show two different attitudes. It is therefore useful to clearly separate them and to clarify what they mean in clinical practice when treating a child.
Accepting the child as he or she is- means a real commitment on the part of the therapist in the form of not judging the child's feelings, accepting all the child's feelings regardless of their pole. This is not easy, as parents mostly punish children for their negative emotions, instead of showing how children can do this safely, in a socially acceptable way.
The Play Therapy therapist accepts emotions as they are, because the most important thing is that they are there. This attitude creates a sense of understanding and support for the child as they are. The Play Therapy therapist does not reward the child for positive feelings and behaviour, because then acceptance disappears. Nor does he punish the child for negative feelings. The child's negative behaviours are used to express something we often do not understand, as our first reaction to these behaviours is usually a 3F (fight, flight, froze) response. The Play Therapy therapist is aware of this and uses the emotions that arise within themselves to better understand the child's feelings. He is able to separate his own emotions from those of the child.
Accepting the child as he is also means accepting the meanings, the names the child gives in play. We already remember that when the Play Therapy therapist says "it can be whatever you want it to be"-he is simultaneously saying I accept your world and I accept it as it is.
Accepting the child as he is also means accepting what the child plays with. That is why, in addition to "polite toys", the Play Therapy office also has materials for expressing anger, fear, hatred, hostility or sadness. Soldiers, guns, foam swords, Boo , masks, clay, sand, etc. give the child the opportunity to express negative emotions in a way that is safe for the child and the therapist.
When the child feels accepted by the Play Therapy therapist, he or she then expresses his or her feelings without fear, e.g. a 7-year-old takes a dummy in his or her mouth and lies down on a blanket and starts to talk like a baby. The child does not have to say: "I feel like a little baby, I need my mum, I need to calm down, I need to rest". This is often what adults expect a child to say about their emotions. In this particular situation, the Play Therapy therapist can say: 'it looks like you need to rest, you need to calm down as much as you can'. The therapist understands the child's behaviour, accepts the emotions and reflects them to the child in a way the child can understand. The child begins to understand him/herself and his/her needs, and seeks to meet them in a constructive rather than destructive way.
Accepting the child as he or she is has many other aspects that Play Therapy students can see and experience during the Play Therapy experiential training. You can find out more about the training here
As you can see, accepting the child as he or she is - is the basis for the child discovering his or her true Self.