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5 Common Anxiety Themes in Play Therapy

anxiety, worry, themes, play therapy, child therapy, child counseling, behavioral therapy, common themes

Themes and behaviors in the playroom are huge indicators of what is going on in a child’s life and can even give signs of a diagnosis. There are many general themes that can be seen in play therapy, as discussed in the post 15 Common Themes in Play Therapy.

Today’s post will discuss themes that are indicators that a child might have anxiety. These are themes that I have seen repeatedly with children who I work with with a diagnosis of anxiety. It’s helpful to me when I see these themes and am unsure if a diagnosis of anxiety would be appropriate or not; to me it usually indicates that anxiety might be likely. That being said, just because a child is exhibiting the following themes does not mean that that a child has anxiety.


1. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a very common theme in children with anxiety. In play therapy, I usually see this by children wanting things a certain way. For example, this theme could be seen with a child wanting to reorganize the furniture in the dollhouse or repeatedly making artwork because it is not “perfect.”

2. Reliance

Kiddos with anxiety have a really tough time dealing with all of the power and control that is given to them in play therapy. After saying the classic play therapy opening (as discussed in How to Structure a Play Therapy Session), many anxious kids will look at me like a deer in the headlights and seem incredibly overwhelmed with deciding what to play with. There have been many times that anxious children ask me to decide for them. An example of reliance in play can be seen as children drawing the same thing the therapist is.  A child showing power and control and being able to make decisions for themselves in the playroom in a huge indicator of making progress in therapy.

3. Fear

The world can be a big, scary, frightening place for child, especially for those with anxiety. I have had many children who have worries and fears about monsters and the dark. Fear in the playroom can be represented by the child shrieking and backing away from pretend spiders and snakes.

4. Low Self-Esteem

The theme of low self-esteem and low self-worth is very common with anxious kids. This is usually seen in play through kids not believing in themselves or repeatedly ripping up artwork.

5. Attachment

For children with specifically separation anxiety attachment is a common theme. Attachment could be seen in anxiety related to separating from parents, caregivers, or the therapist themselves.

That’s it for today! Until next time, Play On!



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