The importance of play

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.

the quality of our play tells us a lot about who we are
the quality of our play tells us a lot about who we are

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.

Easter egg hunt
Easter egg hunt

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.

making a cubby under the table
making a cubby under the table

4 thoughts on “The importance of play”

  1. This emotional dysregulation is what I saw in most of my AOD clients. I really think it is something that affects a huge sector of our community.
    The inability for people to be able to self regulate their emotions and the inability to connect.
    Over years of counselling, I have come across people, more so men than women, who have had no idea how to self sooth, de stress, self regulate, or how to communicate in a healthy way.
    I found I had to do work on these issues with every person I came across.
    Men are not taught to talk about their feelings. Yet every male client I saw, experienced something they had never come across before, a save place to fall, where someone was there just for them with no hidden agenda. A safe place where they didn’t feel they had to fix anything or they didn’t have to be the strong one.
    Most men had never experienced having someone just be present and to really listen to how they truly felt at their depths of their core, without judgement.
    They are conditioned from such a young age, not to cry, to get on with it, to be the protector, the fixer.
    Their inner child is scared, lonely and desperate to be understood and loved unconditionally, just like all of us.
    After some time of seeing these men, I saw growth, a calmness and the emotional freedom and willingness to learn skills so as they could connect to their partner and children which is what they desperately wanted but didn’t know how to achieve.
    Let’s hope that 2017 sees more people realise that it’s not about what we have or what we don’t have but it’s about the quality of the relationships in our life’s, the inner peace we all desperately seek.

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