I’ve had a lot of favorite school counseling toys over the years, but there’s one that stands above the crowd. If you want to learn how children interact with their parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends, you need to invest in some dollhouse dolls. Through these dolls, you’ll discover how the child you’re working with sees and interacts with the world. (I really don’t think I’m overstating anything here.)
“Play is a child’s natural medium for self-expression.”Virginia Axline
While playing the role of mother, a child once told me that they would “call the cops on me” if I didn’t behave while I played the part of the child. Do you think this was an idea that originated in their mind? No way, that was communicated to them by their parent, and they revealed it to me through play.
I once asked a student to tell me about the people who cared about them, using the dolls to represent different individuals in their life. The child lined up all the dolls I had and listed everyone from their teacher to their bus driver, but their mother was conspicuously absent from the long line of people who cared. Sometimes what isn’t said is as important as what is said.
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”Peter Drucker
Having dolls in your office seems so obvious, but if you’re like me, you’ve probably invested in lots of tactile and sensory toys instead of traditional “play” toys. Even now that I know their power, I am often surprised at the depth of information revealed when we play with the family characters. I used to have the Cre8tive Minds Family dolls, which were great because they were easily cleaned by spraying them off, but I love the mobility with the Hape set I use now. The Hape brand has characters representing a Caucasian family, an African American Family, and even family pets. I don’t have the budget for the playhouse, but we’ve managed to make do without it.
How often do adults spend time letting children guide the play? I’d bet not often enough. It seems that adults are often teaching, guiding, or directing the play. I used to worry that people wouldn’t think I was “working” if I was playing dolls with children in my office, but now I know better. Unstructured play together is so revealing and so profoundly connecting.
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