Saturday, October 28, 2006

Types of Play

One of Jane's comments has got me thinking more, about seeing the children's play as work.

I think there are different types of play that children engage in. There is the type of play where they are alone but somehow building on certain skills or processing what's been going on in their lives. That's a play that is work. You see the skill building or thought process development when they are building something completely new or are trying to figure out how to do something. You see the 'life processing' when, after having seen a burned house, they are playing with a fire truck and reinacting the firefighters putting out a fire. In group play, you see a lot of the negotiation and more of the reliving and processing of life matters--divorce comes into play, fears of being kidnapped come in. All kinds of work being done through play.

There is another sort of play. One where little of that processing work is going on. It can be the above play, but instead of processing life or working out problems, it's simply destructive or lacking any real focus or purpose. It can be play where the child is bored and so needs to keep himself entertained because he doesn't know what else to do. Or the kind where the child is avoiding other stuff, often something she doesn't want to do--usually because she's afraid on some level of what's being asked--but it can be just life in general. The kind where the child is not really engaging in anything. This second type of play is okay--but when it's persistent, especially in the case of avoidance, it needs to be looked at. Mind you, it's doubtful that we would take the first kind of play and encourage a child to do that each day, all day, for 18 years. We would have to wonder just what is going on with this child that this type of play is the only thing he or she can engage in!

This second type of play, the older the child in particular, can be a sign of emotional difficulties. Not knowing how to deal with their emotions, the children escape them by engaging in a safe activity. Nothing safer than laying on the ground, playing with a ball or small hockey stick, rolling a car around on the ground. Or they engage in social play but you see that they are the ones who never bring anything 'real' to the game, which in turn has the others frustrated because the game is meaningful to them. The former bring no challenge to themselves, no pushing forward, no processing of real life. It's escapism.

If you haven't seen this type of play, you may not know what I mean. I see it regularly and know that it's a problem--the longer it continues, the worse it gets--and it almost inevitably bring others into the avoidance. The latter aren't trying to avoid anything, but they get caught up in enabling another's avoidance of their fears.

Most of what children play is beneficial and when it isn't quite challenging enough, they automatically add some other element to it to make it more complicated. But not all kids are able to do this, so all play can not be seen as being the same.


Jane said...

Such an interesting post......I don't think I have experience of that second style of play though.....perhaps in a small way when children are internalizing things they have been doing/ learning/ experiencing....but not long term......

I think I'm thankful for that!!!

Great post Daisy!!! Your posts always leave me thoughtful!

Daisy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

I first came across the type of compulsive or escapist play with a child I had in my dayhome sometime ago. I'd never seen the likes of it before. What I'm seeing now is rather different, but still that 2nd type.