A few weeks ago my adopted son Jamie, now aged 12, asked for a Playmobil fire engine for Christmas. The recommended age range for the fire engine is 4 – 8. Despite knowing intellectually that his emergency service-based play is a way of ‘playing out’ his trauma, I’m ashamed to admit that I tried to put him off. I was feeling worn down and frustrated by the endless toddler anger, baby talk and lower brain thinking and I’d mistakenly thought I could ‘grow him up’ with some old-fashioned ‘pull yourself together’ type parenting. The following day he’d packed away all his Playmobil toys and demanded that I put them in the loft.
Fast forward a week and I was sat in a vast hall listening to Dr Margot Sunderland explaining the importance of therapeutic play and storytelling in helping abused and neglected children process their trauma. The bag of tangled Playmobil emergency vehicles in the loft played heavy on my mind. Someone is trying to tell me something, I thought and tried to forgive myself for occasionally wanting life to be different.
‘The traumatic past won’t go into the past until it is remembered in the present’ said Dr Sunderland and ‘talking about the trauma is not like opening a can of worms because the worms are spilling out every which way anyway.’ I can attest to that. Only the worms are more like vipers.
She talked about the power of play, storytelling, music and art in helping traumatised children to process their trauma in the upper, thinking parts of their brains and how it can be used to demonstrate that we, the trusted adults in their lives empathise with and soothe their fears, their grief and their loneliness. As Dr Dan Hughes so wisely said ‘children who feel angry have to be helped to feel sad.’
This weekend my two children asked me to buy bandages as they wanted to play ‘vets’. They spent the most part of two days asking to have knees and arms bandaged and taking care of animals in their clinic. It was all about nurturing. So often my children are trying to show me what they need and I need to have the humility to listen to them.
So now I have some work to do. I’m reading Using Story Telling as a Therapeutic Tool with Children by Dr Margot Sunderland and looking through some of the art therapy materials she has produced. I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to approach it yet, but I’ll keep you posted.