Risë VanFleet

Helping Parents Develop Their Own Toy Kits in Filial Play Therapy


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In Filial Therapy, parents eventually hold play sessions with their children on their own at home.  We recommend that they use a separate set of toys for these sessions to help communicate the “specialness” of the play sessions to the child.  This brief article discusses ways to help parents develop a separate toy kit for this purpose.

Early in Filial Therapy, I provide parents with a list of toys similar to the one above.  I ask them to try to assemble these toys over the next several weeks.  I explain that they needn’t get everything on the list, but to try to obtain toys from each of the various sections.  As they near the point where they will be conducting play sessions on their own, I then remind them again of the need for a separate kit of toys.  It’s fine if there are a few “cross-over” toys, i.e., toys which children use in everyday play, but it’s best to minimize this. Common “cross-over” toys might be a dollhouse or other fairly costly items that can’t easily be duplicated.  I suggest that parents keep the toys in a bag or box in a location that will not be tempting for curious children.

Although the cost of a “starter” play kit is probably about $150, that’s a great deal of money for some.  Indigent families need alternatives to purchasing lots of brand new toys.  Parents and workshop attendees with whom I’ve worked have suggested many creative ways to assemble these toys.  Their ideas and some of my own are outlined below.

Low- or No-Cost Toy Substitutions


  • Box with dividers from a grocery store
  • 4 shoeboxes glued together to form 4 rooms
  • Large box top, piece of cloth, or paper divided into quarters, or rooms

Doll Family:

  • Clothespins with features drawn or glued on
  • Sculpey figures

Dollhouse Furniture:

  • Plastic pizza “stabilizers” (white object used to prevent “slides”) can be used as tables
  • Small blocks of wood
  • Other common household items – think creatively!


  • Socks with yarn hair, button eyes, etc.
  • Socks with magic marker features drawn on
  • Specialty wash cloths
  • Specialty oven mitts

Bop Bag:

  • Pillow with face drawn on cover

Kitchen Set:

  • Margarine tubs of different sizes
  • Divided plastic dishes from microwave or frozen dinners

For homemade items, it’s fine to have the parents and children work on creating their play session toys together.  For example, the parent and child could jointly color the box that will be used as a dollhouse, or draw the features on sock puppets.  With filial therapy groups, it can be fun to have a toy-making night.  It’s a nice way to draw out parents’ creativity while developing the toy kit.

Other Sources of Inexpensive Toys

It can also be useful to create some toy kits to loan to parents for their home sessions.  It’s nice if parents contribute some of the toys, but the rest can be loaned to them and returned after they’ve finished having home sessions.  Toys for these kits can be obtained quite inexpensively from yard sales and flea markets.  You can also circulate a list of needed toys among coworkers (and other family members’ coworkers) and collect needed items.  Some child- or toy-related businesses are willing to donate toys for such purposes.  I’ve also approached charitable organizations, presented a brief “seminar” about play therapy and filial therapy, and then asked them to consider a donation for these toy kits to be loaned to indigent families.  For example, when I worked in a community mental health center, I gave a talk to a local charitable business organization that resulted in much interest about play therapy and a $2000 check for toys for our in-home filial therapy program!

Ideas for developing toy kits are bounded only by your own and your clients’ creativity.  I’ve found that the more you keep an eye out for ideas for toys, the more creative you become!

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