Especially for parents
Playing is a timeless and universal impulse enjoyed by children and the child within. Play keeps us connected to our deepest truths. Children have always been attracted to play with the elements. Living closer to the source of all things, closer to the unconscious, they remain naturally fond of earth and water. In the play therapy room, children realize they can use the materials: sand, water, clay, toys and paint to make their inner images come alive. By looking at what they have created, they can begin to look at themselves.
This kind of play in a safe and therapeutic space is very healing. The child is allowed to say whatever she thinks, to do almost whatever he wants and to be whoever he or she wants to be. Yet there are basic rules to protect the child and thus a feeling of safety is created along with a sense of freedom. The freedom to choose activities and to talk are always the child's; the child sets the pace. This empowers children and once they are feeling more powerful, they are usually comfortable talking about more difficult subjects. This is why it doesn't work to say "I want you to talk to him about his hitting!"
The child is accepted exactly as he is and is not judged in any way. All feelings are okay. The therapist's job is to listen and observe the child's play, reflecting feelings in a way the child can use to better understand herself. Children possess an inborn ability to heal themselves. Just as their "owies" heal, so upsetting or traumatic events will heal. But wounds need the right conditions: to be kept clean, to have air, and sometimes helpful medicine. So emotional wounds need certain conditions to heal: a loving and supportive family, the feeling of being heard and seen and the externalization of painful feelings and images. This is where the parent's work comes in. Their job is to create a healthy and safe home environment for deep and thorough healing.
Therapy comes from a Greek verb meaning "to wait". Therefore patience is required. The natural pace of the child is much slower than the adult's. This process can be likened to a journey and often the path is not straight, but bumpy and filled with detours. It is critical that children maintain a consistent pattern of appointments and that appointments which must be missed are discussed ahead of time. To me, each child is a gift. Thank you for sharing your child with me.
Deepening the Relationship
Many times the ordinary problems of childhood can be overcome by parents with guidance from a child psychotherapist, teacher or friend. One of the most important foundations in the life of a child is a warm, emotionally close relationship with one or hopefully both parents. This is the bedrock of all future growth and development. In our current stressful lives, the necessity for mothers and fathers to work outside the home and the pace of our lives does not leave much time for playing with our children. Yet, this is the very best way to connect to your child, no matter how old your child is.
I recommend that parents spend at least 15 minutes per day on the floor or outside playing with their child. This play can take many forms from playing a board game, to playing with dolls to playing ball. The most important aspect of this play will be the freedom it affords, the emphasis on fun and not on following rules or producing something and the genuine pleasure that stems from having fun with one another. There are excellent books about this at your local library or book store. If you think you have forgotten how to play just ask your child “what do you want to play today?” and they will most likely have an answer. Being with your child during play, attending to your child’s thoughts and feelings as you enjoy each other’s company builds up the bond between you. I maintain that if the bond between you is warm and strong, most discipline works, the child experiences higher self-esteem and the child is more apt to succeed in school.
Here are some suggestions if you are feeling stumped:
- With your baby, play singing, rhythm and touching games. Make strong eye contact. For more ideas read Games Babies Play by Vicki Lansky.
- With your toddler, any movement game on the floor is generally enjoyed. For example, rolling a ball back and forth, hide and seek, find the hidden object, etc. For more ideas read Games to Play with Toddlers by Jackie Silberg.
- Your pre-schooler is your best playmate yet since imaginative play peaks during these years. You can pretend just about anything and your 3 or 4 year old will go along. Playing store, house, fire engine, police or dress-up helps your child prepare for the future and builds up the emotional connection between parent and child. Read Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen.
- With school-aged children, the play may turn to skill building whether it be checkers, baseball or jump rope. This kind of play builds self-confidence and promotes muscular development as well as offers shared times of happiness and even begins to teach lessons about losing.
- If you have a special situation, contact me for further assistance about how to play with your child.
Turn Off the TV and Tune In to Your Child
The average child in the United States sees six thousand hours of television by their fifth year. ( Joseph Chilton Pearce, Evolutions End, 1992.) In 2004, the numbers may be even higher. These are hours in which the child is not using his imagination to play, is not interacting with siblings or parents, is not listening to a story, is not reading a book, is not playing outside. I urge every parent to turn off the TV and tune in to your child. Go for a walk, read a story, play on the floor with dinosaurs, make a tent in the living room, sing together, develop the child’s imagination through play. This is the source of all intelligence: to play. It is not frivolous, but a vital necessity to the growth and development of children. Of course, there is wonderful children’s programming on television. Just like sugar, a little is fun; a steady diet is harmful.
Speaking of Sugar………….
Children’s health is influenced by the food they eat. We know this and yet sometimes we give in or do what is easy. I encourage all my patients to feed their children whole, nutritious foods, preferably from a tree rather than from a package. The wise parent keeps the so called “junk” food at a minimum. Children’s behavior is linked to their general health which is linked to their diet. Substitute fresh fruit for candy and cookies. Stay away from soda pop! Introduce vegetables early and keep carrot sticks at their reachable level in the refrigerator. We are what we eat. Too much sugar in the young child’s diet predisposes the child to obesity, tooth decay and stresses the body. Check with your pediatrician or nurse practitioner if you have concerns about your child’s diet.
For more information and for answers to many questions about children and food, go to www.keepkidshealthy.com.