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What is Theraplay and Why is it Helpful?

Discover the transformative power of Theraplay – fostering joy and connection. Explore expert insights in family therapy for lasting positive change.

By Karina Jimenea on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What is Theraplay?

Theraplay is an evidence-based dyadic child and family therapy approach that addresses behavioral, emotional, or developmental issues and improves the parent-child relationship through play and healthy interaction. 

Developed by Ann Jernberg in the late 1960s, Theraplay has been recognized as one of children's seminal and historically significant play therapy approaches. This therapy is mostly used for children under 12, although it may be modified for teens and adults with comparable issues.

The therapy is based on the natural patterns of playful, healthy interaction between parent and child and is personal, physical, and fun. The Theraplay model focuses on four essential qualities in parent-child relationships: Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge.

These dimensions build and enhance attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement. Theraplay sessions create an active, emotional connection between the child and parent or caregiver, resulting in a changed view of the self as worthy and lovable and of relationships as positive and rewarding.

Theraplay has been proven to be a beneficial and effective approach for treating young people who are experiencing or have been affected by a range of issues and challenges.

How is Theraplay helpful?

Theraplay benefits can be a game-changer for people. It's not just about fun and games—Theraplay packs some profound benefits that can make a real difference in people's lives.

Building connections and trust

Imagine Theraplay as the ultimate friendship builder, especially for kids. It's like a secret handshake but with games and laughter. Through shared activities, Theraplay helps children and their caregivers create unbreakable bonds. It's not just about playing; it's about building a trust-filled connection where everyone feels safe and valued.

Boosting emotional regulation

Theraplay isn't just about fun and games. For kids (and even us grown-ups), it's like having a personal emotion coach in the form of play. Those giggles and shared moments in Theraplay sessions work wonders for understanding and managing emotions. It's a playful way to turn those emotional rollercoasters into merry-go-rounds.

Enhancing social skills

Do you know those tricky social skills that sometimes feel like puzzle-solving? Turning social interactions into games transforms learning into a joyous adventure. Suddenly, sharing, taking turns, and being a team player becomes second nature. It's like a crash course in social superpowers – all disguised as play!

Healing through play

Life throws challenges our way, big and small. That's where Theraplay shines as a gentle healer. The magic of play helps individuals process and express difficult emotions.It's about using play to heal and move forward. Theraplay turns the healing journey into a playground of possibilities.

Theraplay Activities

Administering Theraplay activities is like diving into a treasure trove of playful strategies that foster connection and growth. 

Numerous Theraplay activities are centered around four dimensions: structure, engagement, nurture, and challenge, which are considered necessary for child development and lifelong resilience. Here are some examples from Dr. Amelia Taylor, a certified Theraplay practitioner and trainer:


The goal is to create a predictable and organized world, including a safe environment. It benefits children who are hyperactive, undirected, overstimulated, or require high levels of control. 

  • Cotton ball blow: Adult and kid blow a cotton ball while holding one end of a scarf or long fabric. Adults say ‘ready, steady, go’. You may add cotton balls or lengthen the scarf for children who are older.
  • Simon says: Take turns becoming the leader. Copy instructions from the leader, commencing with ‘Simon says…’ Instruct without saying Simon says every now and then; your child must not copy when Simon does not say!
  • Pop the bubble: Make a bubble and catch it with a wand. Tell your child to pop the bubble with a specific body part, such as his or her tiny finger or toes. Then you may do it while blowing bubbles. 


Engagement activities are about making a child feel safe inside and checking their feelings. It's about being fun and happy without planning to. It helps kids who are shy, don't want to interact with others, or are too tightly organized.

  • Fortune telling: Grab your child's hand and act like you're going to tell them their story. A lot of nice and fun things should be said.
  • Play hand clapping games: Look up different ways for bigger kids to clap their hands on Google. There are some really cool things to learn!!!
  • Copy funny faces: Make a funny face in front of your child. Then, see if they can copy it. 


The activities involve feeling like you deserve love, having less worry, and being calm. It helps children who are overactive, aggressive, or act too adult for their age.

  • Feeding: Spend time with your child and share a snack or drink. You and your child could eat together. Keep an ear out for crunches or other sounds of eating. Have your child close their eyes and try to guess which one they got (crunchy cereal, fruit, nuts, etc.). You may listen to calm music together. 
  • Cotton ball or feather guess: Create a sensory experience by having your child close their eyes while you touch their skin with similar textures, like a make-up brush and a cotton pad. Ensure the activity fosters feelings of safety and playfulness, steering clear of tickles to prevent overexcitement.
  • Blanket swing: Create a calming experience by having your child lie in the center of a blanket, lifting them gently, with each adult holding two corners for a soothing swing. Hum a tranquil tune, maintain eye contact, and keep the activity quiet and gradual for a relaxing experience.


Challenge fosters competence, confidence, self-efficacy, and the belief that children can accomplish goals. It helps shy, timid, or rigid kids.

  • Pillow push: Take a pillow or cushion, hold it out in front of you, and let the giggles begin! See if your child can knock you over, turning it into a playful and enjoyable activity. Just remember to keep it light-hearted and avoid using it with overly excited kids who might have difficulty staying safe. Safety first, fun second!
  • Shoe and sock race: Turn the routine of putting on and taking off shoes and socks into a playful game. Race with your child, turning it into a fun and lighthearted competition. The goal isn't to make it challenging but to infuse a sense of enjoyment into the everyday task.
  • Straight-face challenge: Introduce a playful challenge with your child by asking them to maintain a straight face while you attempt to make them laugh. It's a fun way to test their poker face skills. See how long they can resist the urge to crack a smile or burst into laughter. It's all about turning a simple task into an amusing and light-hearted game!

When is it best to take Theraplay?

Theraplay is a superpower for improving emotional connections and relationships. You might wonder, when's the best time to sprinkle a bit of Theraplay magic into your life? So, let's talk about it!

Early childhood experiences

Consider the early years, when everything is fresh and somewhat perplexing. That is where Theraplay excels. Engage in some Theraplay fun throughout these early years, and you'll lay the groundwork for solid friendships. It's like a fun guide to help kids control their emotions and establish the basis for great relationships in the future.

Transitions and challenges in relationships

Life can throw some curveballs, such as a tough stretch in a relationship or a significant relocation. That's when Theraplay enters the picture as the ideal sidekick. It provides a controlled, fun environment for families or couples to reconnect and hash things out. Perfect for smoothing out issues and strengthening relationships.

Managing behavioral shifts

Managing kids’ behavior can be challenging. Whether it's typical defiance or some social stumbles, Theraplay sessions can help. It's like a fun playbook for teaching good conduct while incorporating emotional expressiveness. Who knew play could be so effective?

Healing from tough times

Life throws us curve balls from time to time, whether they are huge or tiny. Theraplay acts as a gentle healer. Its lighthearted vibes assist people in expressing and processing all of their feelings sans the heavier stuff. Consider it a safe refuge for regaining trust and beginning the healing process.

Boosting family vibes

Theraplay isn't just for the tough times. Regular Theraplay dosages can be a family vitamin, keeping everyone healthy and happy. Theraplay delivers the delight, whether you're preventing future turmoil or just making your family relationships even stronger.

How can Carepatron help with Theraplay-related work?

Imagine a therapy session where laughter becomes the universal language, trust is the golden key, and joyful engagement lights the path to healing. 

Theraplay, a magical blend of playful activities, builds bridges between hearts and lays a solid foundation for attachment, self-esteem, and trust in others. It's a dynamic force that surpasses traditional talk therapy, tapping into our profound human need for connection through shared moments of joy.

Now, envision unlocking the incredible potential of Theraplay seamlessly through Carepatron, a beacon of hope and innovation in the therapeutic landscape. As the leading Theraplay app software, Carepatron is more than a mere management tool—it's a vibrant ecosystem that harmonizes with the nuanced emotions of therapy, creating a space where healing can flourish.

Carepatron's Theraplay software goes beyond the ordinary, blending play-based interventions seamlessly with essential practice management elements. 

From an intuitive therapy EHR system to streamlined therapy scheduling, Carepatron is the holistic solution that transforms therapy into a journey of inspiration and connection.

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Commonly asked questions

What are the most effective Theraplay activities patients can practice anywhere?

Theraplay activities that focus on building connection and trust, such as mirroring exercises, cooperative games, or activities promoting shared laughter, can be effective for patients to practice anywhere. These activities emphasize positive interactions and strengthen the bond between individuals.

Is Theraplay suitable for adults?

Yes, Theraplay is suitable for adults. While it is often associated with children, Theraplay principles can be adapted for adults to enhance interpersonal relationships, improve communication, and address attachment issues. It offers a versatile approach that can be tailored to various age groups.

What are the limitations of Theraplay?

Theraplay may not be the ideal therapeutic approach for every individual or situation. Its focus on interpersonal connection and play may be less effective for clients who prefer or require more traditional talk therapies. Additionally, Theraplay may not be suitable for addressing complex mental health issues that require a more specialized intervention.

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