This month I’ve been thinking about the importance of play. I’m especially interested in it as an ongoing monitor of both our emotional and physical health.
All mammals play and of course humans are no exception, it’s the most heart breaking phenomenon to be working with children who don’t play. Very quickly there is recognition that something fundamental to their being, is absent.
My granddaughter has started to giggle and whilst I’m yet to witness this, I do see a process of research taking place in her parents as they try to determine what she currently finds worth a giggle.
It feels like a very significant attachment step, and another important step in attunement. One that could easily be trivialised by someone, who themselves has a ‘play disability’. In other words someone who values serious learning over useless peekaboo, or what ever else engages the baby. Given that we’re currently into ticking boxes the move to interactive laughing could be seen as a big tick in the step 1 attachment box.
When we are able to be playful we are well enough loved. Through playfulness we learn about abstract thinking which provides the foundation for empathy. When we play we are teaching babies about metaphor, the distinction between the actual and the illusion, an essential concept to embed for successful navigation of our world. In turn observing the quality of play tells us something about the relationship to self and other. Play builds neuroplasticity. We all need individual and relational play. What this looks like will vary across the life cycle.
I’m currently at the International Family Therapy Conference and there isn’t too much play happening here. It’s all very serious research. The play of ideas, and creative thinking, is almost completely absent – but more about that later. I’ll do a conference blog in the next couple of weeks.
Play is an ongoing part of daily life – it’s fragile. Recently I had the virus that has been going around Melbourne. As I coughed my way to health I realised I’d lost my sense of humour and consequently my playfulness. The return of my humour announced the return of my health. This is pretty simple stuff to tune in to, and yet we don’t.
When someone is depressed tracking a history of what makes/made them laugh or what activates their playfulness is not as difficult to access as one might think.Often something inconsequential can happen in a session that will make them smile, this is often a good place to start.