The Power in Play
Evening bath time play is the usual order of things for my 5 year old son and tonight was no different. The usual play mobile figures were talking, balanced on the rim of the bath. Like for many parents the opportunity to sneak away and put clean washing in the draws was first on my mind. However, the pull to stay and join his play kept me from my job list. “Oh, you better stand back” said one play mobile figure. My son had gone quiet as he carefully moved his figures apart. He was thinking. More than that, he was now processing this brand new concept – social distancing! I held his silence as he furrowed his brow for a moment and then slowly his face turned to a reassuring smile. His other character then replied, “It won’t be for long.” So much had been said, resolved, processed in just those few minutes. “It won’t be for long.” I reflected back his own words, his smile proving to me he trusted that was true.
Play is the child’s first and chosen language! It is the place in which they safely and effectively make sense of their world; organising, trialling ideas and looking at different perspectives, often without uttering a word. Joining your child in play and allowing them to lead and direct your involvement in their world is a massive privilege. We often see their play as an excuse to get something else done, or a place we dare not interrupt. But in truth, for the child, hard work is happening and when the adult sensitively enters the child’s space they can assist in navigating them through a world of questions, uncertainties or confusion. A language of its own unfolds with often not a word uttered from the parent. Then, just at the perfect moment, the adult catches a look. For a second you hold the emotion in that space and then with words (and sometimes not), something is done, something is expressed! Understanding. Acceptance. A deep breath. It’ll be OK. They carry on.
Anxiety always negatively affects communication; sometimes it can hinder putting even basic sentences into order. It blocks the flow of rational thought that allows us to stop those worrying thoughts from spiralling out and can make children feel frozen in a world of anticipation and fear. Some level of anxiety is inevitable during this uncertain and very strange time, so let’s not miss the opportunity to settle the minds of our own children by joining them in their chosen language – Play!
Selina Yeoman BA (Hons), PG Dip (PTh)
Certified Play Therapist, PTUK
Selina Yeoman - firstname.lastname@example.org