Dolls can be incredibly healing for children. They are a symbol of nurture and love. Unfortunately, not all children are loved and cared for properly. Children can use dolls as tools in play therapy to process many childhood issues. Some may cuddle and nurture the doll the way they want to be nurtured by a mother. Some may use dolls to act out and process trauma that they have experienced. Other children may act out deep anger they feel through play that they would not do in real life. They can also help process family changes such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
Play therapy allows children to process emotions in a safe, comfortable way. They naturally communicate and process the world through play, so using toys in therapy brings therapy to their level. If you plan to use play in therapy, please seek training. There are different ways of using play in therapy based on the theoretical approach you use. This article offers creative ways to use dolls in play therapy to help children heal, process experiences, and overcome challenges.
by Hello, Wonderful
These little mermaid dolls are super cute! They would be fun to add to your sand tray toys or allow kids to make them and take them home. Toys provide a creative outlet for children to process emotions and understand things they have experienced. Children will often take the toys and act out a scene that sounds a lot like something that I know the child has gone through. Having the right tools on hand can allow kids to process difficult situations in a safe way.
by Dr. Karen Fried
If you are doing play therapy online, you need to check out this free online dollhouse. It is very similar to the free online sand tray. This allows children to choose toys and drop them into the dollhouse. You can process the play the same as if they were using physical toys in the playroom.
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by Kiddie Matters
Worry dolls help kids manage anxiety by casting their worries on the dolls. For instance, if a child is afraid a thunderstorm will come you can have them tell the worry doll to worry about it while the child sleeps soundly. They could keep the worry doll close by to cast their worries throughout the day so they don't feel so overwhelmed.
by Kristina Marcelli
This is a great article on the power of play therapy and how to use language while the child is playing with the dollhouse to process the story behind the play. I love her "dream world" intervention. She offers insight on how to use nondirective play and to use the dollhouse to develop social skills.
by Adventure in a Box
Enjoy a free download with a diverse set of paper dolls for kids to play with. I love all the different colors and styles, offering kids many choices for kids to find a doll that looks like them. It includes some adorable clothing options as well.
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by Girls Go Games
If you are looking for online activities for telehealth, this game allows for online dress-up and dollhouse play. There are a BUNCH of other games to choose from on this site as well. They are free to play. This is a way to allow creative doll play when you are limited to virtual sessions.
by Monica McGoldrick
Genograms can be helpful to better understand family dynamics and relationships. This idea uses dolls (or toys in general) to create the genogram to engage children. It is interesting to see which characters or toys are selected for each family member. There are many ways to process information, such as the placement of the characters and how they are grouped together. It is also telling which family members have friendly, endearing dolls selected, and which family members have more aggressive or scary toys selected.
by Debbie Chapman
Coffee filter dancers are really pretty. The link will take you to a full tutorial on how to create these little dolls. These could be used in many ways. First of all, you have to follow directions to create them which helps with listening and communication skills. Secondly, they could be used in storytelling similar to using puppets. The third idea that comes to mind is using these dolls as a source of comfort. They could be used as worry dolls, a token to take from the counseling room, or as a reminder of the therapy session.
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If you are on a tight budget, you may like these dollhouses from Dollar Tree. You can get the houses or the furniture for $1.25 each. Dollar Tree often has a selection of plush dolls, Barbie-type dolls, clothing, and accessories.
I have had some kids who love setting up these paper dollhouses. Some just enjoy putting the stickers on the pages and designing how to put things together, while others enjoy setting the stage with the houses to use other toys. Some might use dinosaurs to tear them all down and some may put various types of families in them. These are great for traveling therapists. It's kind of hard to carry around a massive dollhouse!
by Sweet Briar Sisters
Animal families can be a great way to help children process emotions. First of all, it creates a safe barrier from reality. This emotional distance can reduce anxiety related to the deeply emotional situations they may be experiencing. I also like that kids will not worry about identifying with the characteristics of the doll such as hair color, eye color, or race. Kids who live in a blended family or in foster care may choose two different types of animals to put together to show the differences in their family. Animals offer many ways for children to communicate and process complex situations. These patterns, along with many others, are available on Etsy.
by Adventure in a Box
Kids can learn about somatic symptoms, the fight or flight response, relaxation skills for tense muscles, or other specific anatomy needs with this paper doll set. As children learn about their bodies and how they work, they feel more prepared for how to handle triggers and body responses to stress. This is a paid download, but a great concept. For creative ideas for how to help children understand their brains, check out this blog post.
I hope you have enjoyed these creative ideas for how to use dolls in play therapy. Do you have any favorite interventions? Please feel free to comment with what has worked and even what has not worked in your practice.