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Children and Families
Nobody grows up in a vacuum, individual family members come to know themselves and the world through the lens of the family system. What is the “family system”? It helps to think of a family as a web of interconnected individuals. Everybody is connected and interconnected, working together as a unit to create safety and stability for each individual and for the family as a whole- what we call “homeostasis.” If we think of the family as an interconnected web, working together to create stability, we can safely say that if one member of the family is somehow impacted by their environment, maybe at school, work, at home or in their interpersonal relationships, then the whole family is impacted. If the system is knocked off its kilter, and the stability of the family is threatened, individual members will behave in such a way as to get things running smoothly. Families and individuals crave that homeostasis, and will do whatever it takes bring things back to normal.
Family Therapy works with the system as a whole, working to come to an understanding of how individuals either work to maintain the homeostasis of the system, or work to disrupt the system when it doesn’t suit their individual needs. A family therapist focuses on how family members relate to each other, and how individuals come to know themselves in the context of their family. Essentially, families come to therapy when the system is off kilter, and the therapist works to restabilize the family, creating safety and containment. We explore individual family member’s needs, and work together to make sure each individual member, and the family as a unit, has their emotional, relational and developmental needs met.
It may seem counterintuitive, but play is one of the most important tasks in a child’s development. Children come to know themselves, others and the world as a whole through play. They come to know the nature of external reality, the seemingly chaotic and unpredictable world they live in, through play. Play is how children process important, impactful and even traumatic events and emotions. It empowers children to be curious, to explore, and to understand the impact they have on their environment. They take all the information and processing that occurs in play, and use it to literally create the fibers in their brains. Play is how children communicate, how they learn to trust others, how they come to know themselves, and how they process the endless information provided by their environment.
How does play therapy work? First and foremost, the therapist and the child collaborate to create a safe, nurturing, accepting space for children to process their emotions. In a safe and contained environment, the child and therapist work together to explore the child’s world and make sense of it. Through play, the duo processes and integrates confusing events and emotions. When events and emotions are processed, the child is free to get back to the important job of growing up.
So what is it? Well, play therapy is fun. It’s silly. We play pretend, dance, play with puppets and sand, create art and play board games. In play therapy, we support the child’s sense of agency, and provide them with a safe, accepting space to make choices. We let the child lead, giving them developmentally appropriate options to explore their world through play. Play therapy gives the child a sense of personal stability, safety and control, reducing anxiety, oppositional behavior and calming hyperactivity and aggression. It improves mood, focus and teaches children social skills organically, working together to meet the needs of the child. All through play.
Right now during the COVID-19 pandemic we can all relate to at least one of
these; fear, anxiety, and worry. But there’s one emotion that very few of us are talking about, even though it is just as common: grief. We are going through a crisis and life as we knew it is changing. We are in a place of uncertainty, a luminal space of transition. Therefore, recognize its normal to grieve. Allow yourself to be with your feelings, to grieve not only for your family but for others as well. Accept it and ask yourself what can I do, what act of self-compassion can I do and keep going. If we do not allow ourselves to
grief, the stress can get stuck in our body, causing illnesses. We are all experiencing losses and gains during this time. Accepting our losses
while at the same time recognizing what we are gaining from this is invaluable.