Of late, I have been disturbed by the amount of aggression I see in children. Take for example the recent case of a Grade 7 pupil who was beaten by her schoolmates and suffered a brain haemorrhage as a result.

Another case involved a Grade 5 schoolboy, who was beaten up by eight other students inside the school campus after they accused him of swearing at one of them. As a result, he suffered bruises in the jaw and the shoulder.

Moreover, I am very disturbed by the stories I hear about how children are abused by their teachers. Recently, a six-year-old boy was allegedly assaulted by a school teacher in Dubai; there were bruises and scars on his shoulder. He has been affected psychologically. He wakes up from sleep, crying. He is also refusing to go to school.

Abuse and aggression are on the rise and this will have a detrimental impact on our children and their welfare. What do we do? Just read about the cases and feel no empathy, take no action?

I am compelled to introduce an alternative way to help our children cope and feel empowered in order to move ahead in life successfully. It is called Child Play Therapy.

Play has been recognised as important since the time of Plato (429-347 B.C.) who reportedly observed: “You can discover more about a person in an hour’s play than in a year of conversation”. Since then, play therapy has emerged as a form of counselling for children that uses play to solve their emotional, behavioural and mental health problems.

Distraught due to problems

Children’s natural medium of expression is through play; not all children can express their feelings through words. Give them appropriate toys and they will show you how they feel.

Play can be used as a therapeutic method to assist children in coping with emotional stress and trauma. They may be distraught due to problems (e.g. parental divorce, sibling rivalry, bed wetting, child abuse, behaviour problems at school, Attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, autism, bereavement, academic underperformance and communication problems).

As a child play therapist, I worked with one child in UAE who had trouble in school and during the therapy sessions enjoyed playing with words and story making. I accepted him as he was and mirrored his behaviour. Several weeks into the therapy, he started writing stories about the struggle to fit in and build trust! As the therapy went on, he made great progress. His particular enjoyment was with words and story making. This contributed positively to his learning in school. And you can imagine how rewarding it was for me to hear his mum say: “You touched my heart, thank you for helping my boy.”

Through play therapy there was a shift in his behaviour from being a difficult student to an amazing story writer. This happened without medication.

It is so satisfying to be able to help heal children and change their lives.

‘Active play therapy’ was developed by Joseph Solomon from 1938 to 1940. It was a method developed for impulsive children. Another major development in the field of play therapy involved Virginia Axline’s 1969 adaptation of Carl Roger’s non-directive child-centred approach to play therapy. Child centred play therapy is based upon the tendency in the child to be self directed. Axline in 1975 developed eight basic principles to guide therapists to give their clients (children) the freedom to create the mess/chaos they want to and offer the child contentment a warm, friendly relationship necessary to keep him/her safe. This enables all children, who are not content with their careers or have suffered trauma, to experience an improved sense of self and better balance. In 1977, Erik Erikson stated “to play it out” is the most “self healing measure childhood affords”.

Lessening aggression

So how effective is play therapy? Based on the analysis of data published by PTUK/PTI of 8026 cases in 2011, about 74 per cent of slight/moderate problems and 83 per cent of severe problems in children receiving play therapy show a positive change.

Child Play Therapy uses no medication whatsoever. I have tried it with the children I work with and the results are clear: children can be healed through play.

Play therapy is becoming one of the most popular and recognised forms of support for children in the world. Based on the evidence gathered by Play Therapy International (PTI) from smaller scale projects, we can see that post therapy, there have been positive changes in countries such as in UK (94 per cent), Australia (61 per cent), Malaysia (69 per cent) and Ethiopia (90 per cent).

Results suggest that Child Play Therapy is successful across cultures. I am confident that if it is recognised, supported and applied successfully in UAE, it will help lessen the aggression in children and educate adults, including teachers, in better dealing with children.

Badriya Al Tamimi is an Emirati child play therapist.