Finding Wisdom in the Playroom & On the Playground
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Wonder (n): a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
One of the greatest strengths children possess is there sense of wonder. This is how they learn in their early developmental years - through their curiosity and experiences. Being that our model of play therapy is child directed, we trust in your child's natural ability to explore and become curious about their challenges through play. The therapist in the playroom is trained to engage with your child in this wonder and play, with the skills of regulation and awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
Over time, children learn (with their millions of mirror neurons) how to build regulation and awareness into their own experience. From this, your child learns emotional acceptance & awareness, that their body is a cue to their emotional world, and how to connect and notice emotions in others, a.k.a. empathy. Our children have an extraordinary innate wisdom that we often take for granted, or chalk it up to naivety. Let me provide you with an example of what I am talking about.
I once had the pleasure of caring for a young boy from age 3-5. He was very sensitive and also very adventurous, loving to take risks (i.e. climbing high on the play structure or a tree, riding down big hills on his bike). One day, perched excitedly on his bike (which he had just recently mastered without training wheels), he wanted to ride down these tall, thick stairs at his school. My adult brain knew that the physics of this feat would most definitely lead to him falling off the bike and possibly getting hurt. Because I could quickly identify this, my amygdala lit up with the fear of threat and I urged him not to do it. He ignored my warning, even after I described why it wouldn't work, and said, "I'm going to do it," with a gigantic smile on his face. I had several options on what to do next in order to deter him from this danger: (1) Threaten him with punishment if he did it, (2) Walk up to him and physically prevent him, (3) Let him make the decision and learn for himself.
Given that I am a play therapist, I chose number 3, even though I felt the fear in me rise - my heart beat sped up, my stomach felt nervous and tight,. I said, "Okay, you can do it, but make sure you check in with your gut first. I notice my gut feels nervous, nauseous, tingly, and scared. But if your gut feels ready and safe, then go for it." He paused, then moved inches closer to the edge of the top step. I saw his smile go from confident to nervous. As he got closer to the step and looked down, preparing his body, he looked back at me and said, "I'm scared."
I said, "That's your gut speaking to you! I'm scared too." He moved back on his bike, then forward again, slowly as if testing what his body was telling him. After doing this a couple times, he said, "I'm not going to do it, I'm going to go down that hill instead." And there it was...his innate wisdom and awareness. He was given space to explore for himself what fear feels like - by listening to his body - and how fear shows up to keep us safe. He then made HIS OWN decision to not go through with it. Now, he has created a memory in his brain (because memories need emotion to stick) about how fear can tell us when something isn't safe. Now, in future risk taking choice moments, he will intrinsically remember the felt sense of fear and it's purpose...for HIMSELF. This type of memory is much stronger than the memory of someone else telling us not to do something. In fact, there was just a study done on how children below the age of 7 don't process when we tell them not to do something.
Trusting that our children know what's best takes a lot of courage as a parent or caregiver. Our brains are hardwired to worry about our little ones, so parenting/caregiving is a constant practice of sitting with our fear and responding rather than reacting to it. Of course, if kiddo is running into the middle of the road with a car coming...that's a moment to get involved. But in these little moments of risk or danger, where threat is low, we can truly use it as a teaching moment. Not teaching by telling, but teaching by encouraging experience, autonomy, and of course, wonder.