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Mental Health Mondays:
The Safety of Play

by Emily Odjaghian
Mental Health Clinician
Lucy Daniels Center

The next time you walk past your child playing diligently with his or her toys, look closer and you’ll see your child is working out life’s complex riddles through the safety of play. Play fulfills many needs in childhood: connection, comfort, competence, reflection, mastery, and so on. As children get older and their toys and games collect dust in the corner, the utility and meaningfulness of play still stays with all of us, though it may look different; just think of your beloved hobbies, game night with friends, or what comes over you when you pass by hopscotch squares chalked on the street.

When a child plays, it is both fun and serious business. Because young children do not yet possess the capacity to tackle conflicts and challenges in direct and reflective conversations, he or she instead creates a play world where challenges, skills, upsets, events, wishes, and many other things can be explored within the protective world of play. In play, building blocks are no longer just blocks. They are now the castle wherein the knight may build his defenses, feel strong against threats, strategize to defeat the monsters at the gate, and feel pride for having mastered such a scary situation.

The next time you walk past your playing child and this springs to your mind, also know that your child’s invitation for you to join them in their play world is deeply meaningful. Your willingness to be with your child, whether it’s simply your relaxed presence sitting close by or your active participation in a game, builds a deeper, more secure, and more trusting connection with your child. If your young child invites you to play and you’re not sure how to do so, I have one piece of advice for now: follow their lead. They are giving you a window in their world of feelings, thinking, and problem solving, and entering that world may teach you something new.

Lucy Daniels Center Farley-Manning Family Guidance Service (FGS) provides onsite and telehealth therapy for children ages birth – 12 and families at the Lucy Daniels Center. Currently, we are operating remotely due to Covid-19 and instead are taking referrals for telehealth services only.

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