“Ah the wonderful world of a child’s imagination”
Raymond Briggs, The Bear
This winter (or should I say eight months) has been, how can I put it…educational. I think a lot of being a parent is educational and our best teachers are the little ones right in front of us. I have learned a lot about myself since becoming a parent. There are parts of me I am definitely not proud of, but parts that are slowly starting to flourish. One thing I find very challenging in life is making decisions under pressure or when I’m tired. Over the last eight months, I would say that challenge has been tested on a number of occasions. Sometimes I manage. Other times, I really don’t. Poppi has had four admissions to the Children’s Hospital in the last eight months. It’s not something I have felt particularly worried about, as I know she’ll always be ok, but it doesn’t half stretch me to the absolute limits of my capacity. The suddenness at which she deteriorates gives us little to no prior warning and before we know it we’re back in out of hours or at A&E having to make on-the-spot decisions about work, staying in hospital, childcare for the rest of the week etc etc. Patience is another of the skills I am less good at, but the endless hours of waiting have been good opportunities for me to practice. However, what I have found most ‘educational’ about the last eight months is the way in which Poppi has processed the events for herself.
Play. Why do children play? Simple really, yet we take it for granted. Play is the way in which children communicate. Play is the way in which children take ownership and gain an understanding of their situations around them. Play is so important to children and all too readily, as adults, we deny them this opportunity.
“There’s no time, we have to get out.”
“Your doll isn’t poorly, now come on and brush your teeth.”
“Do we have to play this again, I’ve played it so many times with you.”
Any of these sound familiar? I have noticed that when Poppi’s little doll, Amy, is feeling poorly, within a day or two, Poppi herself has come down with something. Children communicate through play. They use toys to help them express and understand how they feel. We, as adults, have a great responsibility to hear what the toys are telling us. I have just finished working (through Play Therapy) with a wonderful child who has used play incredibly to explain something of the traumatic start to their life. During one session the child was attacking a land they had created. The poor creatures in the land couldn’t catch a break. It turned out that the creatures possessed something very precious to the attacker. The reason the attacker was attacking was because it had lost this something precious. I wondered if the child had ever lost anything precious. The child replied, “If my mum had been nice, she would have been precious and I’ve lost her”. I was so interested in how the toys helped the child to express the loss and anger they felt. And, this is only one small example.
Since the hospital trips Poppi’s play has centered around…wait for it…doctors. She has a doctors kit (which the hospital have kindly added to) and her poor toys are constantly needing trips to the doctors. The repetition of play allows a child to eventually gain mastery as they reach an understanding and accept the outcome. The usual illness for Poppi’s toys is a chest infection, in need of oxygen, or sickness. All symptoms Poppi has experienced over the last eight months. She got a new hospital set for her birthday and I sneakily observed some of her play. The things she said as she was playing were all remarks she had heard during one trip or another. The imagination is influenced by reality and the play helps the two become distinguishable.
I think this is a wakeup call for all of us. It is so important to process difficult events so that we come through them without the adverse effects of trauma, regardless of how big or small. Children learn from these play experiences and in turn, we learn from their experiences. However, do we ever stop to process our learning? I feel like I’ve just done that in writing this blog.
Perhaps I should go and play now.