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The Healing Power of Yahtzee, LEGOs, and Baby Dolls

Here’s the story of how play therapy helped to dissolve some of the anger, tension, and frustration in my relationship with my daughter. And how it gave me permission to have fun with my child again – something we both appreciated, and needed.

“What I do is play therapy,” Pam told me over the phone.

“Sure, sounds good,” I responded. “Let’s make an appointment.”

I had no idea what play therapy was, but I knew I needed help. My 7-year-old daughter and I had never seen eye to eye. As hard as I tried to remain the composed adult, her ADHD-fueled arguments and behavior completely unhinged me more times than not.

I felt we had a lifetime of sorrow ahead of us if I didn’t get help. Someone needed to “fix” my daughter’s ADHD, I thought. Stat.

The first appointment was just Pam and me – a getting-to-know-you session, if you will. As I told Pam about my fights with my daughter, I began to see holes poking through my iron-clad “adult” logic and strategies. Had I royally screwed up everything, I wondered.

But Pam was empathetic and non-judgmental. I left that session full of hope, and returned a week later with my daughter.

Over the next few months of play therapy, my daughter and I spent time together in Pam’s amazing toy rooms filled with games, books, dolls, miniature figures, sand trays and more.

[Read: How to Practice ADHD Play Therapy at Home]

I was initially terrified to actually play with my daughter, especially in front of another adult. If you could rate my parenting skills on a scale of 1 to 10, my score for “playing” would be a -100. I just don’t remember how to play pretend, and I really, really hate it.

But my job was simple: follow my daughter’s lead. I only had to do what she said, when she said it. We ended up having a great time setting up imaginary worlds for African animals, complete with magic doors; taking care of dolls; and playing board games.

Pam would analyze the play and discuss it with me afterward while my daughter did homework in the waiting room. She explained that some conclusions are just guesses, but others can be quite obvious.

Through the subjects my daughter brought up while we played and the way she chose to play, we discovered and learned how to help with a specific anxiety she had.

[Toy Stories: Play Therapy for Children with ADHD]

And perhaps most importantly, we discovered that she loves me. She adores me, actually.

I couldn’t stop crying as I sat on Pam’s couch the day we realized this. Logically, I knew my daughter loved me – our relationship wasn’t so far gone to forget that – but our day-to-day interactions were often so strained and difficult, the stress had a nasty way of overshadowing all the love between us.

Through the play, we renewed a mother/daughter bond as we looked into each other’s eyes, laughed, and talked.

“Mom, you’re happier,” my daughter said to me one day.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, a lot of the time you’re mad at someone. But lately, you’re not – you’re happier. Why?”

I mumbled out some kind of answer, but the truth is: I’m happier because she and I get along better.

It was a bitter day when our insurance changed and we had to stop working with Pam. We weren’t finished, but I’m eternally grateful for how much we gained.

Today, when things get intense between my daughter and me, I now have a pocketful of techniques to help us resolve things with less anger. Even though we didn’t get the full benefit of play therapy, the few months we did have were completely worth it.

I knew we had stumbled on one of the greatest blessings for our relationship one day when we walked out of Pam’s office, and my daughter grabbed my hand and said, “I just love you so much. Like… so much! Thank you for being my mommy.”

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