Dear Cassy: Playtime is important time
by Marisa Ryan, MSW.
Because I work with elementary school students toys and games are the primary tools I use to support my kiddos. I tell all of my parents and caregivers something I’ve heard time and time again throughout my career — play is the primary language of children. At first, I was unsure of this this theory. I would go to my supervisor at my previous agency and say, “I don’t understand, I just play with them?” And she would confirm answer, “Yes, just focus on the play. That’s what they need most.”
So there I was, in my first official year as a clinician, carrying bags of games into the schools and just focusing on the play between my client and myself. Jenga, Sorry, Uno, Battleship, Scrabble, Mancala, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Go Fish, Taboo—the list of games is endless.I would fight off urges to ask them direct questions about they were struggling with. After a few sessions of play, I noticed that the kiddos I was working with felt safe. The pressures of the outside world were momentarily at rest and they were able to breathe. This safe space that was created through play, allowed the kiddos to openly express themselves, They knew that this safe space was one without any criticism, judgment, or ridicule.
As a child therapist, I provide a lot of support for parents and caregivers, as well. Being a parent is an intricate challenge that no one can really prepare you for. There’s one tip I provide to every parent and caregiver. This tip can fit with every family dynamic and culture. Simply play with your kiddos. They love you unconditionally. They want that bonding time with you. Even if they tell you, they would rather play Minecraft or Mario Kart on their Nintendo switch, or watch the latest video from their favorite YouTuber — bonding time with you supersedes everything. And if they’re really intent on playing those video games, don’t be afraid to pick up a controller and play with them. Taking interest in your child’s interests means the world to them.
Kiddos are not the only ones who benefit from the play. Adults need some play time, too. Research has shown play contributes to our happiness. We all have an inner child who needs to come out and play and we deserve to give ourselves that opportunity. Make playtime for yourself a priority. Put your phone down (that last text or email can wait until tomorrow), take out your favorite board game, LEGO set, Play-Doh, or drawing pad and see what happens! Let that inner kiddo you have in there come out and play.
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For more information go to SouthBayFamiliesConnected.org
Marisa Ryan works with CASSY SoCal (cassysocal.org), which partners with the Palos Verdes Unified School District to provide students with comprehensive mental health services.