By: Krystina Jones-Norvell LMFT
“I just want my kid to LISTEN to me!” “Why can’t they just calm down?” “Ugh, they just want attention, that’s why they’re yelling and screaming all the time. But how can I make them STOP?”
Exasperated and exhausted parents often say these things to me during our weekly sessions. Sometimes with tears in their eyes they just want help. My heart melts in the presence of these parents that are genuinely doing the best they can with what they have. With a twinkle in my eye, I introduce them to a new way of looking at their child’s behaviors and help them find the solutions that are often right under their noses. Play. That’s right. PLAY.
Stuart Brown, M.D., the founder of the National Institute for Play writes that play, true play, shapes the brain, opens imagination, allows people to connect socially, and refreshes the soul. Play reduces stress, increases immune functioning, allows access to the parts of the brain responsible for learning, and increases creative problem solving (Brown & Vaughan, 2010). Brown states that for play to qualify as the type of play that is refreshing, redeeming, and reenergizing, it must be apparently purposeless, voluntary, have an inherent attraction, freedom from time, diminished consciousness of self, improvisational, and possess a desire for continuation (Brown & Vaughnan, 2010). True play “pointless”, it is not edutainment, nor does it possess qualities to put on a college application; it is voluntary, not prescribed mandatory participation in a rigid, adult driven activity; it is attractive, drawing curious minds from around the neighborhood; it is the type of play that has no beginning or end and, once emersed, the players cease to notice the tick-tock of the universal slave master on the wall, wrist, or in the pocket. Once engaged in true play, one “loses” oneself, becomes the characters, embodies the spirit of adventure, and may resist returning to the “real” world. True play is flexible, creative, with rules that change, bend reality, and adjust according to the agreements of all persons present. True play a joy to begin and difficult to end. True play connects.
So, my tired and weary parents. The next time your child begins to pout, grab an empty paper towel tube, a pillow and a stuffed animal. Put on your best pirate voice, ogre voice, or witch. Build a blanket fort, turn out the lights and play flashlight tag, hide and seek, or the floor is lava. Watch the magic of play.
Brown, S. L., & Vaughan, C. C. (2010). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. Avery Publishing Group.