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Rediscovering your inner child (it's not that scary)...

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

I couldn't wait to grow up, and at a certain age, 'play' became uncool. 'I'm not playing mum, I'm just here with my friends.' My attention was focused on age milestones - on reaching double figures and then turning 13. After that 16 and 18 couldn't come soon enough. Like many of my friends, I was desperate to shed my childhood and the idea of playing; I wanted to be an adult. It's therefore been a really interesting journey challenging myself to befriend my inner child as I go through play therapy training.


Until recent years play was seen as a way for children to kill time. But, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered more about the way in which children develop, and have gained a deeper understanding of the brain, the role of 'play' has been researched and studied in great detail.


It's now widely agreed that 'play' is the universal language of children - it's their work. It enables them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the way in which the world around them operates. It builds foundations for communication and creativity and starts to introduce empathy. It allows them to put on different hats, to negotiate boundaries and share. It builds connections and amazingly, it begins from day one.


Sensory Play

At the start of life, a child craves interaction. They want touch, eye contact and pre-verbal conversation. After a while they may start to make cooing noises and enjoy games like peek-a-boo. Babies may then move on to responding to the the simple action of watching an adult hide an object and making it reappear, something that teaches them that people and objects can exist in the world without them actually seeing them.


When I took a moment to indulge in times like this with my little one, people looked at me as if I was mad. The idea of play seems to split the adult world, and in my role as a new mum, I was worried about being judged. But, I quickly realised that for babies this is the beginning of game playing, and a great way to build the brain physically, intellectually, neurologically and socially.


Projective play

Following on from sensory play, children move to a phase called projective play. At this point they start to use objects such as toys to project thoughts, feelings and scenarios. It's likely that we've all seen children wheeling a tiny car up and down, or making shapes in the sand. They become curious about beings outside of their own selves, exploring separation and the idea of taking turns.


It's this point that many parents and caregivers dread, as the idea of play, and the use of imagination to create characters and situations is so alien. In talking to friends about this topic I hear words like, 'but it feels silly,' or 'I'm just not very good at playing games.' Of course, children don't care about either of these things, but the awareness that adults have with regard to what is deemed acceptable and the way that society views them can sometimes take over.


Narrative and role play

Eventually, children tend to move to narrative and role play. They try on different hats and take on characters, playing with peers, siblings or adults. They negotiate with others and start to exercise control. "I want to be the doctor daddy" or "today I'm the teacher." "You sit there and I'll go shopping." They try out life as someone else and create their own rules. They ask that adults enter their world and go along with their game, without challenging or correcting.


And then there's contact games such as 'it' and conkers. There's clapping games, football and skipping. Physical, interactive games that explore bodily strength and competition. The ideas of loss and winning.


Connecting with our inner child

Childhood is such a personal experience for each of us. Some may long for bygone days, whilst others may not wish to relive their earlier years. Couple this with the fact that play isn't encouraged for the adult population, (unless it involves alcohol), it's easy to see why many feel they struggle to connect with children on this level. But, finding our inner child will help the development of our children and it doesn't need to be scary.


It can be as simple as getting on a swing or reading a story in an animated way. If you find the idea of play intimidating or silly then start slowly. No one is expecting you to write and direct a Hollywood standard story with the use of puppets, but I suspect that you could become comfortable with the idea of popping a puppet on to hold a conversation.

You could mess around with paint or playdough, pick up a pencil to write or draw. If you have a happy childhood memory, then why not revisit your happy place, taking your child with you and see if that inspires you. You might want to play hopscotch or use pots and pans as instruments.


No matter what you do, your child won't be thinking that you're silly. Instead you'll be bonding with them and lighting up their world. You can get alongside them, in their magical moment and let them lead. You'll be helping their emotional development, communicating, sharing and imagining. After all there is no right or wrong, and and who knows, after a while you might just enjoy becoming reacquainted with your inner child and sparking your own creativity.


#play #innerchild #fun #childhooddevelopment #sensoryplay #projectiveplay #roleplay


Image 1 - Unsplash

Image 2 - My own

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