07 Dec Playtime Lost? Three ways to create a space to play, and heal. Tips for during, and after the pandemic.
As 2021 comes to a close should we be concerned about the effect Covid-19 has had on our children’s development? Well, of course. We don’t yet fully understand what impact lockdowns, social distancing and the erosion of children’s social lives will have.
There are multiple reasons why kids have been more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Schools closed, social isolation increased, and financial and emotional stress has been rife in families around the world. For some, greater exposure to family conflicts has been a global tragedy with repercussions that will likely last generations.
In short: It has not been easy on our children. So, how can we help them now?
Rough and Tumble: Let it happen!
After so long in isolation, you don’t need to be a behavioural psychologist to guess that some kids are struggling with managing anger. Because kids have had to social distance there hasn’t been much opportunity to engage in rough play with other children. Rough play gets a bad reputation. We don’t advocate encouraging violence in children but make believe physical combat and other physical play is an important developmental tool for many animals, not just humans.
As this Australian parenting website points out, rough play and play fighting develops strength, movement and social skills. As long as children are laughing while they engage in pretend combat it’s all good. As well as teaching body and spatial awareness it teaches them boundaries. What will other people allow me to do to them? What can they do to me and what is acceptable to me? As long as no one is getting bullied, and as long as there is no risk of serious injury it’s vital that children, especially young children are allowed to push and shove each other.
Setting rules is great, but allowing children to set their own limits and rules is even better. Children can’t learn diplomacy and bargaining skills if they can’t create their own worlds and rules.
Myopia – on the rise – Get outside!
As covered in a previous blog post, kids need to get outside. There has been a dramatic decline in outdoor activity since the pandemic began. Short-sightedness, or myopia, is a common eye condition that causes distant objects to appear blurred. Studies suggest that it is becoming more prevalent worldwide. In parts of East and South-East Asia 70–90% of young adults have myopia. Spending more time outdoors reduces the risk of developing myopia. Since children have been restricted from going outside over the past few years it’s important to make sure they get to experience some open spaces. In addition spending time outdoors decreases the risk of vitamin D deficiency. (Make sure to use sun protection of course, especially in sunnier times and climes).
Not all kids have had the same access to the outdoors. Children living in a house versus an apartment meant some kids had easier access to front or back yards for outdoor play and physical activity. For those kids who have been cooped up indoors it’s time to make a special effort to do things outdoors.
Suggestions for indoor activities that can be tried outdoors:
- Scavenger hunts
- Instead of dinner try a picnic.
- Board Games (weather permitting)
The Mayo Clinic also lists these low-risk ways to get outdoors more:
- Walking, running and hiking
- Rollerblading and biking
- Fishing and hunting
- Rock or ice climbing
- Kayaking, canoeing, diving, boating or sailing
- Winter sports like Skiing, Ice skating and sledding
- Fitness classes, held outside or virtually, that allow distance
Puppets to the rescue!
Younger children often relate more easily to toys and cartoon characters than to real people. A puppet represents a human being without being human. Therefore, they are an excellent vessel for therapy. One of the reasons puppets make such effective therapy tools is that they bring kids closer to reality even as they create distance from it. Kids often feel that they can say things to puppets that they cannot say to adults, even though the adult is the puppet master. Puppets can be presented to children as non-threatening helpers who will listen to them and not judge. In addition puppets can be a great way of empowering children who find it difficult to communicate their feelings by allowing them to control the puppet.
In the 1970s, pioneer drama therapist Eleanor Irwin and colleague Elaine Portner developed the Family Puppet Interview. This is a technique that uses a puppet-show format to diagnose psychological problems with children.
The structure is as follows:
STEP ONE: THE WARM UP
Introduce the puppets and observe the children’s reactions. Ask them to create their own story with the puppets they select. The story has to have a beginning, a middle and end, and has to be original. Kids are not allowed to retell a story they have heard or seen on TV etc… Also kids have to act out the story, rather than narrate it. They must be given time to develop their story too. Around 20 minutes is good depending on their age.
STEP TWO: THE SHOW
Children create a story and perform it for a counselor. (Without interruption)
STEP THREE: THE POST SHOW INTERVIEW
The counselor (or maybe a parent or relative) interviews the puppets and asks them questions about the story. The kids are still controlling the puppets and/or giving them voices. The puppets are allowed to speak to one another.
STEP FOUR: FINAL DISCUSSION
The counselor breaks the metaphor and talks directly to the children, asking them to reflect on the story they created.
Apart from being great fun, this challenge is a great way to get an insight into any issues that may have been bothering children during and after the pandemic. Parents have been stressed too and children sense it, so they may be more open to articulating their emotions through puppets and other toys. Why not give some version of this a try? Ask your kids to put on a show for you. You may not get a resolution to a problem outside of a clinical setting but it’s a good way to have fun and bond with your child in an unusual, playful way.