To Appreciate the Influence of Play (page 2)
As the grandfather of three preschool children I am reminded on a regular basis of the joy of play and imagination. I remember when my wife and I babysat for our oldest grandchild Maya last year when she was about 3 1/2 years old. We put her in for her afternoon nap. I could hear her gleefully talking to herself and it was obvious that falling sleep was the last item on her personal agenda.
After a while I knocked on her door and asked, "Is it hard to fall asleep?"
Maya smiled and answered, "Yes."
I noticed many of her stuffed animals around her bed and simply said, "It looks like you're having fun with all of your animals."
She said "yes" again and invited me to watch her as she told a story, sometimes including me in her play. It was a joy to observe the enthusiasm with which she engaged in her fantasy play, weaving a story that involved different characters.
Later that day she played a game with my wife that she has played on numerous occasions (basically just with my wife), involving a baby shark. Although we as adults might tire after repeating the seemingly same scenario time after time, Maya seemed to relish each and every re-enactment. I looked at Maya's younger sister Sophia observing the shark play. Sophia wasn't even two years old at the time, but she seemed ready to join in the fun.
A few days ago I watched as my 2 1/2-year-old grandson Teddy lined up toy trucks and other vehicles, placing them on the couch or in a play garage. He attempted to explain something to me and while I had trouble understanding all of his words, it was evident that he was having fun.
These descriptions of the play of young children are not unusual. Anyone who has interacted with young children can offer many examples of their rich imagination and their use of the simplest toy or object to transport them into a wonderfully imaginative world filled with possibility. As educators and developmental and clinical psychologists have often reminded us, such imaginative play is not only fun but offers opportunities for the growth of cognitive, language, and emotional skills. In my role as a psychologist I have seen many children in therapy. I am well aware that play is an invaluable tool for not only understanding the inner world of children, but for assisting them to learn more effective ways of coping with challenges that they face.
I remember vividly one of the first children I saw in therapy many years ago. He was a seven-year-old boy who had been physically abused by his father. This child alternated between angry outbursts and withdrawal and, not surprisingly, did not seem interested in getting close to people. In our first session he sat in the corner of my office simply rolling a truck back and forth and not permitting me to enter his play. This continued for the next few sessions and as an inexperienced therapist I remember thinking with some humor, "I thought that children would love me to play with them in therapy."
In the fifth session the script changed, perhaps as a consequence of his beginning to feel more comfortable with me. He brought in a tow truck and reported that a miniature car I had in my office was broken and needed help. He said that it had been hit by a bigger car and could not move forward. I perceived the broken car that had been hit by a bigger car as a representation of himself and the abuse he had encountered. His introduction of a tow truck signaled the possibility that he was beginning to entertain the belief that there were others who could help him.
Unfortunately, he was unable to attach the little car to the tow truck. I asked if I might be of help. Although he hesitated for a moment he eventually accepted my offer and I proceeded to attach the two vehicles. He smiled in delight, both of us sensing the attachment that was taking place between us but not intruding upon the mood or story by linking it directly to the abuse and lack of trust that permeated his world. I was amazed as a novice therapist to witness the scene that unfolded in which the tow truck brought the damaged car to an auto collision shop where they "knew all about taking care of damaged cars." Parallel to the happenings in this play, this boy's relationship with me improved. Many other children in my clinical practice have taught me that this incident with the tow truck was not an isolated example, but rather a very common occurrence of play being used to communicate important messages and to enrich one's relationships and emotional well-being.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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