By Venessa Bowers, MSW, LCSW-C, CCTP, MA, TCTSY-F, RCYT, E-RYT 200/500 RYT, YACEP
Owner and Founder, Expressive Embodiment, LLC
There is something profound to be learned from children and the ways in which they play. They play when they’re happy, when they’re sad, when they’re grieving, and when they’re mad. And as much as we might want to think that kids have nothing to be sad, grieving, or mad about; the tragic reality is that they do. Far too often, they do.
But the lessons I have learned from working with children who have lived through more, experienced more, grieved more than many people will in their entire lives is the healing power of play. I know for myself, as I ran head-long into accumulating accomplishments, degrees, searching for recognition, feeling lost by pursuits that were so often fruitless that the thing I lost or perhaps, never explored because of its frivolity, was playing. And then I met the first child who would teach me this important lesson - life is better when we play.
Here’s the thing – I have seen children in the most weakened states emotionally and mentally, sometimes physically and there are many more of them that never knock on my door. Regardless of the level of distress, the prolonged nature of the trauma, the lost families, and what many consider “lost childhoods” – these children are consistent in one thing. This thing transcends race, class, and gender issues. It transcends trauma. It transcends grief. That one thing is to have the sense of wonder large enough to create play in at least one area of their lives.
When one is as fortunate as I am to spend the better parts of her days in the company of children, one ends up with the profound sense that the child is the smart one in the room. They’re smart because they still dream, still hope, still believe that if they play long enough with someone who loves them, or even without, that they will move through the dark place they currently inhabit. They love with their whole selves and it wraps around me like a really warm blanket in some of my coldest places.
When a child laughs, and I mean REALLY laughs, it as if the brightest light ever produced in the universe shines in the room. Simultaneously, one is blinded and opened by that light. In that moment, we have the choice to blink and shrink from the light or to let the light fill our own darkness. In this way, the healer is healed and the child within is set free.
I have learned to be silly. To make up the most outrageous stories. To hug with my whole self. To breath in the infectious scent of a child’s hair. To laugh from the gut when a kid accidentally spits on me, puts paint in my hair, or throws stuffed animals at my head, just because they can and they know they can, because I care. I have learned to be safe in my happy – to look for my joy in the eyes and smiles of children. Any child. And it has made all the difference.