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Table 1 The development of children's play

Children will play with almost anything, and so the choice of play materials for use in psychotherapy requires careful thought. It is best to select toys that encourage imagination and creativity. It is important to remember that the type of play equipment provided will actually constrain the way the child plays. For example, there is a limit to what cars or toy animals can do. Similarly, a set of family dolls may have their usefulness restricted if there are not enough of them to represent all the key figures in the child's life. A thoughtful and appropriate choice of toys and play materials including drawing, modelling, and painting equipment can make the difference between the success and failure to engage a child in therapy.

Children's play can be a pointer to what is going on in the child's mind (either conscious or unconscious), but it can also mislead. A child's play will only give a very general indication of what the child thinks and feels and will not provide precise information. Perhaps the best way of viewing the use of play in therapy is that it is an aid to communication—and no more than that.

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