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Express yourself with playdough

Ever since my children have been old enough to play with playdough (with that I mean without trying to eat it!) I’ve had pots of the colourful stuff around the house and have always encouraged creative play with it.  I love joining in too, there’s something very soothing about squashing it around in my hands – it seems to calm my mind and helps me to be very present.

After playing with playdough with my boys this week, I decided I’d do a blog with a homemade playdough recipe for you to make with your children.  Whilst doing a bit of research I came across that this classic childhood toy is often used in therapy sessions… So, it seems that it’s not just me that finds in calming.

According to family therapist Carolyn Meholmakulu, playdough is a great tool for releasing children’s emotions.  It can help them to relax as well promote self-expression.  Here are Carolyn’s tips on using playdough as a therapy aid….

  1. Relaxation

The simple act of playing with playdough, squishing and rolling it, can be very enjoyable for both children and adults.  This can help them to relax, focus their attention, and relieve stress.  Having playdough or other “fidget toys” available can also make it easier for children to talk with a therapist.  For children who are anxious or unsure about therapy, they may feel more comfortable being able to talk and open us as they play.  For children with a lot of energy, having something to play with in their hands can help them to release their energy in a contained manner and focus on the conversation.

  1. Anger Release

Playdough and clay are great materials for allowing children to safely express their anger.  In helping children with anger, I talk about the idea that when we get angry that energy needs to go somewhere, we can’t just bottle it up or ignore it.  One safe way to release anger is to allow the child to pound and smash the playdough.  Another option is the create monsters out of the playdough that the child can then smash.  Sometimes I will make a paper target to tape to the wall – the child can then take out their anger safely by throwing the playdough balls at the target.

  1. Imagination

Playdough is great for both non-directive and directive interventions that allow children to express themselves.  For non-directive play and art, the therapist can simply have the materials available.  Children can create whatever they wish out of the playdough, leading to self-expression and imaginative play.  The interactive and changeable nature of playdough lends itself well to storytelling by the child or for the child and therapist to play out a scenario together.  For directive interventions, the therapist can ask the child to do something specific, such as create a symbol of themselves, make an animal, represent an emotion etc.  The therapist and child can then discuss what the child has represented and what it means to the child.

Here’s a simple playdough recipe for you to make at home. 

Maybe you could play the role of therapist for your child and help him work through his problems with a helping hand from some squishy dough.  Or you may want to experiment and see if it can help to calm down an over energetic child.  Have a go and let us know how you get on.

Basic ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cream of tartar (optional for improved elasticity)

Optional extras:

Natural food colouring
Essential oils to support various moods


  1. Mix all of the ingredients together, and stir over low heat. The dough will begin to thicken until it resembles mashed potatoes.
  2. When the dough pulls away from the sides and clumps in the centre remove the pan from heat and allow the dough to cool enough to handle. If your playdough is still sticky, you simply need to cook it longer.  Keep stirring and cooking until the dough is dry and feels like playdough.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a clean counter and knead vigorously until it becomes silky-smooth. Divide the dough into balls for colouring. Make a hole in the centre of the ball, and drop some food colouringin. Fold the dough over, working the food colour into the playdough.  If you decide to add some essential oils then this is the stage to add a few drops and blend them into the dough.
  4. Now it’s ready to use and entirely edible (if a bit salty) so don’t worry too much if your little one tries to eat it.
  5. Store your playdough in an air-tight container. If it begins to dry out, you can knead a bit of water in again to soften the dough.

You can also bake it in the oven to make hard dough figures and ornaments, then paint or otherwise decorate the surface.