I have been enjoying the pursuit of my RPT license for the past two years and have completed the supervision process and I am now nearing the training hour requirement as well. Play therapy has given me access to building rapport, attuning with, intervening, and facilitating healing in ways that have left me inspired and humbled by the innate resilience and capacity for change and growth within the children I work with. Fellow therapists are often aware of my interest in using play therapy and will sometimes seek my advice. Sometimes people will ask me, “What is your favorite play therapy intervention to use with children?” My favorite intervention? At first I thought, well that depends on the diagnosis, or the situation, or the developmental level, etc. As I continued to ponder this question, I began to realize that what makes play therapy so effective is about the role of the therapist. A role that requires holding a sacred space for the session and most importantly being that child’s biggest fan. So let’s call it the “biggest fan intervention” and it doesn’t just happen just once, it happens every session, for the entire session. It happens simultaneously with every other intervention and technique and theory you use to guide your practice and engage children and families. And the best part about it is, you don’t have to be a therapist or a counselor to use this intervention. You can be a teacher, parent, foster parent, mentor, anyone who cares about and seeks to help and empower the children of our world.
To literally be someone’s biggest fan for the time you are with them takes several steps and a lot of focused energy, but mostly it is about having fun! Mostly it involves celebrating and enjoying the child completely just as she is. When you are someone’s biggest fan you see the best in him, you love and care for him just as he is while always believing he is capable of positive growth and change.
Ready for biggest fan tips? Let’s get started!
Step 1: Mindfulness: I know I talk about this often, but it cannot be empathized enough. We have to be present, not just physically but also emotionally and mentally present. We have be aware of the moment at hand, observing the external behaviors and interactions with the child and also how these affect us internally. When a child triggers us, we can notice and reflect on this later, “What does reaction this tell me about me?” As we come to a greater awareness of ourselves and others we can be more fully engaged and less likely to be reactive or simply “go through the motions.”
Children, and adults, know when we are truly attuned and focused and respond according. This literally makes ALL the difference.
2: Offering instead of fixing or controlling
When we are someone’s biggest fan, we don’t try to fix them, we don’t try to make them the way we want them to be. We are nonjudgmental, celebrating them just as they are. At the same time, however, we do fully believe they are capable of positive change and growth and want what is good for them. To offer instead of fix, we must problem solve WITH the child. We must ask the child his or her ideas to solve the problems or cope and try these ideas first. We must also do this in a way that is most engaging for the child, whether that be acting out coping skills with puppets or lining up story stones to identify changes to make a more supportive and predictable daily routine. We must see the child as one of the most important experts into their situations and the steps needed towards solutions. I once had a child tell me, “Thank you for letting kids come here and letting them do what they need to do.” I was so honored and humbled from this comment. So much of what we do isn’t at all what WE do, it is more about the relationship and space we create so children can do what they they need to do in order to heal and grow.
3: Praise: genuinely, often and specifically
It is so important when you are the biggest fan to literally be the one cheering on the sideline. Encouraging perseverance and offering hope and strength even when the rest of the sidelines have started to walk away with disappointed head shakes and slumped shoulders. We must never stop believing in the resilience of our children and fostering it to come to fruition. “Wow, I know you studied for hours for that test. You never gave up even when it was difficult. I am so proud of you!” Also biggest fans always communicate praise with genuine delight and joy. 🙂
4: Have fun
This seems simple but it takes effort. It means playing the game and focusing to enjoy it with the child, not thinking what you will make for dinner tonight. Having fun means when something isn’t working, you are flexible enough to try something new. You use humor and express a sense of truly not wanting to be anywhere else in the world except with that child while you are with her.
Biggest fans delight in, accept unconditionally, celebrate and relentlessly seek to understand.
Children leave interactions with their biggest fans feeling more confident, strong, and capable. They leave knowing they are believed in and that even on the rainiest days, they will have their biggest fan cheering relentlessly on the sidelines. They leave knowing they can, and will, make mistakes but that they can learn from them and are still cared for and loved.
Having a biggest fan not only feels good it enables growth, security, and sets the foundation towards the development of healthy attachments with others.
We all need biggest fans. So get on your rain boots, bring your cheering voice and celebrate someone today, because although it may not always be easy, it is always worth it. 🙂