THE “D” WORD
THE POWER OF PLAY
The task of a child is to play. And isn’t it amazing how children work at it? I watched a family walk toward a restaurant in Sausalito. The parents ambled down the sidewalk while the two children scrambled up and down the rocks on the side of the walk. For their effort they not only got to test their physical ability, but got a science lesson on how crabs walk sideways, saw a school of little fish swim near by, observed how waves splash up on rocks, and got wet shoes.
While parents may worry about wet shoes, the adventure and the lessons the youngsters received certainly were worth it. The point is that children learn by playing.
One time, when my daughter and I were at the Chiropractor’s office, my daughter asked a question. The doctor pulled out an anatomy book complete with overlay pictures of liver and spleen and proceeded to explain. Several years later, when my daughter took biology in tenth grade - she aced the class.
In fact, when it came to information on the digestive system, the teacher was asking my daughter questions. Obviously, while I had been thinking the liver was gross and could we stop playing with the big book, my daughter had had Anatomy 101.
We can use play to teach young children about their IBD and as a vehicle to listen to their feelings. A band-aid on the tummy of a favorite doll or stuffed animal can say a lot. Young children playing doctor or nurse, giving shots to a doll, lets them take power and see the other side of things.
Be part of the play. When told that dolly is crying because she got a shot, offer hugs and point out that now dolly feels better. Offer lots of hugs and band-aids. Band-aids have an amazing curative effect.
I personally like band-aids with bright colors and designs on them. I don’t buy them anymore because I have no children living at home and cannot give the excuse, “I bought them for the kids.” But the child in me gets quite a chuckle and instantly feels better when the band-aids have a little pizzazz to them.
The “child” within us needs to be acknowledged. Maybe a 12 year old is too old to take a teddy bear to the doctor’s office, but Teddy might ride along in the car for a hug on the way home. The inner-child doesn’t out grow its need for attention and soothing.
Once, I saw a report on TV that showed young cancer patients playing virtual reality games while getting chemo treatment. They felt less pain and didn’t mind the treatment they were getting. While distracted by the game, they reported, the treatment was over in no time.
There are many ways that adults have learned to distract themselves. When I get blood drawn, I tell the phlebotomist right off that I’m not going to look. If I don’t see the needle, it doesn’t hurt.
Now that makes no sense at all – but it works for me. Young children haven’t learned yet to distract themselves. In fact, they focus on that needle and get ready to howl. I don’t mean that we should distract youngsters by saying things like, “It won’t hurt,” or, “Don’t be a baby,” because comments like that discount what they really feel and usually will make them cry louder. But, playful distractions can be helpful.
In the hospital – get out those Play Station or X Boxes or whatever they are nowadays for children. In fact, you may be drawn into playing with them, too. It doesn’t mean that things don’t hurt, but it is a way of saying we can get through this!
Children should play. That is their job. Our job is to find ways that the play is not only safe and fun but educates and empowers our youngsters.
Video games are not the only way to play. Invisible friends can be very handy. When my son was about three, he marched through the kitchen one day and stopped to instruct me to say hello to the bears. I looked in the general direction his little thumb had pointed and said "Hello."
My son, satisfied, then marched his troop of “bears” out of the kitchen.
While real friends are great and I recommend them highly, invisible friends have the advantage of always being available. Even adults have invisible friends. Sometimes we have discussions with our inner child or inner voices that need to be reasoned with or we refer to our guardian angel that helps us make decisions.
I admit to having a few words with my computer at times, but really I am talking to the invisible imp that lives inside the machine and makes it do weird things. Then I have to call tech help - my son. (He tries to convince me that a computer has pixels - not pixies.)
You might suggest to your child that s/he have an inner friend, one that is there to help with the IBD. What would this inner friend look like? Ask your child, “What is its name?”
Whatever name your child assigns, use. How can it be of help? Have your child talk to the inner helper and tell you the answers. Inner helper may help to tell mommy and daddy when the child is not feeling well. Maybe it’s there to put an arm (or paw) around the child so s/he can speak up in the doctor’s office and not feel so afraid.
Before you leave the game of inner helper, don’t forget to ask how can inner helper be called when needed? How will your child know inner helper is there?
Your sense of play and willingness to listen will go far in helping your child deal with the many trials s/he’ll face dealing with IBD. Try it on yourself. We all need an inner helper.
As always, I wish you and your child well and offer a friendly “paw” for the difficult days you face.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber