Theraplay is a therapeutic approach, developed in USA in 1960s and practised worldwide since, designed to help children to build their attachment relationships with parents and carers. It has particular value for adoptive and foster families because of this focus. It allows early developmental gaps, created from trauma or neglect, to be filled, by basing its interventions on simple games which encourage touch and eye contact in a safe, non-threatening and fun way.

This playful approach is designed to build relationships. It is simple, fun and non-shaming for the child and it achieves big things in the brain!

Theraplay is a way of helping children grow and develop. It helps children to connect with others and their own emotions as well as giving early developmental experiences which may have been missed. This approach will help undo the “old wiring” and superimpose the better wiring.

Main principles of Theraplay

  • the goal is that the child will become more at ease with adults and other children have less of a need to stay in charge and be able to experience and express feelings
  • the activities are simple, closely involve parents and FUN!

Theraplay has four dimensions, each one of each has activities to help meet the child’s needs, which are:

To feel loved

This happens through being touched, soothed and cared for. This make the world feel safe and secure. The message to the child is LET ME TAKE CARE OF YOU. In Theraplay, this known as NURTURING and the activities are especially helpful in building attachment.

To be heard and involved

This happens through stimulation and variety and teaches the child that surprises can fun. The message to the child is ‘COME AND JOIN IN’. In Theraplay, this is known as ENGAGEMENT and is especially useful for withdrawn or wary children.

To live with order

This happens through knowing that the adult is containing and teaches the child to co-operate and accept authority. The world becomes more safe and predictable and gives the message to the child that ‘IT IS OK FOR ADULTS TO TAKE CHARGE’. In Theraplay this is known as STRUCTURE and is especially useful for children who are overactive and who feel they need to be in control.

To take risks

This happens through taking on new experiences and helps the child feel competent and confident. The message to the child is ‘LET ME ENCOURAGE YOU TO HAVE A GO’ in Theraplay this is known as CHALLENGE and is especially useful for children who are withdrawn or timid.

Theraplay providers

Theraplay is provided by CAMHS and fostering staff and is available in some Children's Centres.