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Hide and Seek as Therapy

Hiding BoyBy Jeff Thomas - Registrar, Play Therapy UK Children of all ages love to play hide-and-seek and it can play a very powerful role in their emotional development. When parents play Peekaboo, this facilitates attunement and attachment – showing her baby, with a loving gaze, that she understands and meets their needs. When the mother disappears in the game, the infant may experience both anxiety and the pleasurable anticipation of reunion with her. This, in turn, increases the infant’s capacity to tolerate separation. Interestingly, when children are referred for therapy, they often initiate hide-and-seek games over and over again. As Hide-and-seek games consist of separating and reuniting, it is likely that the child’s attachment schema is triggered. The repetition of this game allows the opportunity for the connection and comfort of face-to-face relationships that they may have missed out on. For children who have experienced attachment difficulties, trauma, anxiety and loss, hide-and-seek games are extremely important. The children initiate this game so they will be found and thereby begin to heal wounds of feeling ‘left’, ‘abandoned’, ‘bad’ or ‘unimportant’.

Warning - Hide-And-Seek is not for all children For children who have suffered more severe abuse or neglect, hide-and-seek can be a negative experience full of fear, shame, guilt and intense anxiety - in effect, a repetition of the trauma they have already suffered. Imagine, for example, a child who may have had to hide so as not be beaten. In his or her case, hiding was a means of survival and being found was a threat that meant pain and abuse. Hide-and-seek games might still play a role in the therapy for a child like this, but the way they play will be very different. For example, they may hide and not want to be found, or insist on being found only on their terms.  In such cases, hide-and-seek games are about gaining back a semblance of the personal control that has been lost through abuse.

For details on career opportunities and training as a Play Therapist, visit www.playtherapy.org.uk Find Registered Play Therapists at www.playtherapyregister.org.uk