3 Ways Play Therapy Promotes and Develops Emotional Intelligence

Category: Play Therapy

Emotional intelligence  (EI) is defined as recognizing and managing emotions in ourselves and others. According to Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. EI skills are critical for well-being, overall life satisfaction, and success; research shows that EI has a higher correlation with success and happiness than IQ.

Emotional intelligence includes the following three essential skills:

  1. Emotional awareness (which is our ability to recognize emotions in ourselves and others.)
  2. Emotional agency (which is the ability to use our emotions constructively )
  3. Emotional regulation in ourselves and others (which is our ability to manage our own emotions and help others manage theirs.)

Play therapy uses the curative powers of play to help children heal and grow and uses practices and interventions that inherently promote emotional intelligence.

The Association for Play Therapy states that Play Therapy helps children:

  1. Develop responsible behaviors
  2. Develop creative solutions to problems
  3. Develop respect and acceptance of self and others
  4. Learn to experience and express emotions
  5. Cultivate empathy and respect for the thought and feelings of others
  6. Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
  7. Develop self-efficacy and a better assuredness about their abilities.

Here are 3 ways that play therapy fosters emotional intelligence:

  1. Emotional awareness and literacy

A play therapist uses the child’s language of play to develop a positive therapeutic relationship and create a safe space for growth and healing. Through developmentally appropriate play, the therapist promotes emotional awareness and literacy, which allows a child to identify and express their emotions to get their needs met. Emotional literacy supports self-understanding, expression, and emotional awareness, the first step in fostering emotional intelligence.

  • Validation and emotional safety

Child Center Play Therapy ( CCPT) uses validation as the path to emotional agency, the second step in developing emotional intelligence. A play therapist validates children’s feelings, experiences, thoughts, and beliefs. Validation communicates that the child is heard, valued, and respected, leading to feelings of emotional safety and a decreased need for high emotional response. Research suggests that children having difficulty regulating their emotions respond positively to validation.

  • Empathy and emotional regulation

Validation of feelings creates paths towards self-acceptance, self-love, empathy, and compassion, a powerful combination of resilience and strength. Emotional regulation provides personal agency and empowerment, and it’s the third step in fostering emotional intelligence.

To summarize, play therapy fosters EI development by increasing the child’s emotional awareness and literacy, validating the child’s feelings, experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and creating emotional safety, which leads to empathy and emotional regulation. As humans, we are wired for social interactions, and the quality of our relationship’s accounts for life satisfaction. Fostering and developing emotional intelligence provides the foundation for a well-regulated and fulfilling emotional life.

Marina Blalock AMFT