Understanding how your child's brain develops is a great way to explore this question. A lot of parents have this misconception that children cannot remember things from when they were infants. This couldn't be further from the truth. As scientists continue to learn about brain development they have found that when an infant's safety is threatened, they show signs of PTSD. They can experience the perception of powerlessness.
So how exactly does your child's brain work? In a fetus, the reptilian brain stem grows first, this is responsible for breathing regulating our heartbeat. All the basic functions that keep us alive. Then the limbic brain grows or what we call the feeling brain. It is responsible for our relationships, our dreams, and the way we play.
Lastly, the thinking brain or the neocortex grows over these two brains. It is important to know that the neocortex is underdeveloped at the time we are born. You can think of it as a brand new hard drive with no data on it.
So the way to think about this is what is each brain doing in your child’s head.
Firstly, the reptilian brain is always asking “Am I safe”?
Secondly, the limbic brain is always asking “am I loved”? and
Lastly, the thinking brain or neocortex is always asking “what can I learn from this?”
If the first two questions are not answered properly then the thinking brain goes offline until the first two questions are fully satisfied.
When you understand how your child's brain develops, it's easy to see how negative experiences can have very big long-term impacts. When we talk about child development, we often talk about how important the child's environment is and what they need to grow into healthy adults. If you've grown up in an environment where your parents are dysregulated you may have heard them say things like "shut your mouth!", "one more time and I'm going to slap you" or "stop crying like a brat, you're acting like a spoilt child!". In situations like these, parents are actually overwhelmed and are blaming the child for their inability to regulate their emotions.
If this sounds familiar to you, you may find that as an adult you struggle with stress, that conflicts are scary, you may shame others for their feelings, lash out at people, or completely shut down. This is the impact of trauma on your child's brain. It stays with them well into their adult life. The good news is that you can learn how to regulate your emotions at any age. It starts with a commitment to becoming self-aware, compassionate, and being consistent.
Why Play Therapy is a solution?
We are advocates for Play Therapy for many reasons. While there are many benefits to "Talk" therapy for children, they need to feel safe and secure in the therapeutic setting in order to establish and build a relationship with their therapist.
This is why the play environment is exactly the appropriate setting designed to help a child find what is familiar and feels comfortable. Play therapists use the play activity to help your child feel safe and comfortable. Young children do not have the verbal or emotional maturity to express their feelings in the traditional way used in talk therapy with older children and adults.
With any therapeutic relationship, the key is trust. Your child must be able to trust their therapist in order to share these thoughts and feelings.