Therapeutic Play

As a rule, I don’t play with children. I used to, when I was much younger, and my children were little tykes who needed it as a part of their nurturing. But I’m much older now, and not generally inclined. At least, not for any extended periods of time.

Perhaps you can empathize with the dilemma this created when I read the orders that said I have to play with Lia. They are written in her POC. That part of the POC essentially instructs the Nurse to engage her, mentally and physically, to promote adequate stimulation. This falls on the Nurse because Lia has no buddies to fill that role. She refuses to get out of the car when she’s taken to the park, and generally dislikes strangers, so she has no one else to play with. Not to mention she can become a little aggressive, even when she’s playing, so that leaves the Nurse to keep her entertained and active.

I had to find a way to reconcile this situation, and wrap my head around filling all aspects of my duties to Lia. That, or find myself another place to be.

Then I remembered a conversation with one of my students when I “caught” her playing with some children in the playroom on our Pediatric Unit. She thought she was going to be in trouble for goofing off because that wasn’t her assignment. I explained the difference between goofing off and therapeutic play, and changed her assignment. I’m a sucker for ‘teachable moments’. I also made arrangements for her to shadow the Child Life Specialist the following week. This particular career field is built around the concept of a child’s need for play as a natural part of coping with life. And it turned out to be her calling.

With that in mind, I resolved that I could handle therapeutic play, because it wasn’t the same as play-play. So, I pulled out the flash cards and puzzles that help teach letters and matching and opposites, because I’m a teacher, and I don’t really play with children. She tolerated me for a while, reluctantly carrying out my wishes. But one day, with a wave of her hand she told me, “No pun,” (that means no fun) and it was over.

So, I took a step back and decided to follow her lead. I would let her decide what she wanted to play. It was quite by accident that I discovered she enjoyed the games that we made up together more than anything else. Whether it was our silly word games, or me mirroring her body movements, or her blasting the karaoke machine so that I could rush over and make a big show of turning it down. Little things, because what I have found is that Lia is more interested in the interaction with the person than with the “thing”. I am her toy. And sometimes a girl just wants to play-play.

I still slip the educational stuff in there, under the guise of a game. Because, in spite of her assessment scores, she has shown me she is quite capable of learning new things.

Play is the universal language of childhood and it helps facilitate communication. Playing with Lia is not some luxury that I am being asked to provide, it is a necessity. It allows us to interact on a level that is more natural for her, and I am certain that this has helped us build the relationship we have.

I have reconciled. I will do whatever it takes to make her smile and laugh (short of standing on my head). Let’s face it, when Lia’s happy, everybody’s happy. As an added bonus, I have discovered that my own inner child has been waiting, all these years, for a chance to come out and play.

Lesson learned: Play is good for you. I don’t care who you are.

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