Why I Don't Ask Your Child To Clean Up After Therapy
Many parents who come to therapy with their children express some anxiety over their child leaving the office "a mess" when they leave and not having them help clean up. As a Child Centered Play Therapst, it is my belief that these are not toys the child has left out for me, but their emotions and a glimpse into their inner world.
Diving further into this idea, it´s crucial to help parents and families understand the sacred space that is the office when it comes to Play Therapy. A child chooses a toy instinctively because it speaks to them on a deep level, sometimes a pre-verbal memory, even. Toys allow children a safe separation through which they can explore their feelings and experiences.
So what happens at the end of the session? It quite literally means their feelings are all laid out and having them help picking them up is (on a level) asking them to deal with the aftermath of expressing and exploring all those hard things. When we as a therapist step in and take care of the room, we allow the child to "leave" those feelings in that safe place for them to be explored again when the child feels like doing so.
If a child is worried about "the mess", this may influence the amount of toys they are willing to play with and this may affect their symbolic expression. Other feelings about the office and containment may get in the way of them exploring as freely as they might if they weren't worried about how their play is affecting the space.
As a mom myself, I completely understand how parents want to encourage the skill of participating in clean-up after visiting a place and encourage parents to talk to their children about how the rules in therapy are different from the rules at other places and how expectations may change elsewhere.
As a person, I really appreciate it when parents consider me and try to help reduce my workload by helping out to pick up between sessions. I have to say that clean-up between session is therapeutic for me and allows for a sort of "cleansing" from the energy of one session. I am able to honor the emotions of one client and "put them back in the shelf for next time" and start fresh with the next; I prefer to do this alone as a ritual to connect with the emotions explored with one client and feel like I am "closing" one session to center myself and get ready for the next one.
When a child invites me into their inner world through play, I treat it as a gift. Every toy touched by them holds their heart for the 50mins we spend together and that makes everything in this office so special.