By A. Hosack, K. Hecht & P. Berman
I get to meet my mommy’s special friend. Will we have fun like when I play with my friend Marcus?
Mr. Carson had dropped Davy and Claire off at Dr. Berman’s office for a family appointment. Davy was so excited he was running around the room. He didn’t know what to expect but his mommy had said they were going to talk about making sure he was safe so his nightmares would stop. Davy wasn’t sure how talking to his mommy’s friend would help but he hated having nightmares.
His mommy stood up and called to him- holding out her hand. Davy knew this was the signal to stop running around and go walk some place with her. He saw this new lady standing by a door. This must be his mommy’s special friend. They walked into a room and he saw a low table with crayons on it.
“Do I get to make pictures?” he asked. “Yes,” the lady said, we are all going to sit around the table and talk while we make pictures.” She then sat on the floor by the table and Davy looked questioningly at his mommy. Claire sat down on the floor and looked at him. He ran over and plopped down on the floor, pulling his paper as close as he could to his mommy’s.
“Hello Davy, my name is Dr. Berman. I am the type of doctor that talks to families about anything that is bothering them. Your mommy told me that sometimes you get scared and have nightmares?” Davy just moved again so close to his mom that he was sitting partly in her lap. He hid his face in her chest.
“We aren’t going to start by talking about scary things. (1-minute pause) We are going to start by talking about families. We are all going to draw pictures of our families having fun and then explain what helps makes our families have fun. (1-minute pause) We are going to share one box of crayons. Claire, would you hold the box and help us all take turns using the colors?”
This is different than I expected. But, I can see how talking about families while drawing will help my Davy pay attention. I never thought about using play to help talk about things.
Claire was nervous about this appointment. What would Davy say about Larry? What should she say that he wasn’t too young to understand? When she saw the crayons, she smiled. Her Davy loved to draw. She had never imagined they would be drawing today. She had just expected they would all sit in chairs and talk, like she did in her appointments. Dr. Berman handed her the box of crayons.
“Mommy, can I use the brown crayon first,” Davy asked, “I am going to make myself first.” Davy got busy drawing himself and Claire asked, “Should I draw my parents or the family I have now?” “Since we are talking later about scary things, (Davy looks up quickly and stares at Dr. Berman who smiles back and gestures at his picture) draw everyone you feel is in your family now.” Claire loved to draw but realized that the point of the pictures was not to make great art. She drew stick figures but put big smiles on everyone’s face.
Davy was very careful drawing himself all brown and then drawing his mommy, just a little bigger. He made his picture of Mr. Carson the biggest of all. “Why is Mr. Carson so big,” Dr. Berman asked. “It’s because he is big. He always knows the answers to everything, and he is so strong he can even carry me around upside down; being upside down is so fun. “Those are good reasons to make him big.”
“Claire, are you done with your picture?” Claire had just drawn a house in her picture with a tree next to it. “Mommy I love that you put in the house behind Mrs. Carson. I love our house! That’s our tree, the one you like to sit under and read me stories.”
“These pictures are the start of what we are talking about. We will put them in this safe place on the other side of the table. We will need them later. Now, it is time to draw a picture of something that represents “scary.” You can make anything that you want. Just make it see scary.” Dr. Berman gave Davy a new piece of paper. He picked out the black crayon and began to make a big swirl across the entire paper. “Your scary is big and black,” Dr. Berman said. “Yes, there is no light, it’s going to be all black.”
Davy began to press as hard on the paper as he could, trying to make every swirl as dark as possible. “I hate you scary, I hate having you around,” he said. “I can see why scary might be black,” Dr. Berman said, “Would your scary look black Claire.” Claire was just staring down at her new sheet of white paper. “No, my scary is emptiness, being all alone and looking everywhere but not finding my Davy.” “Don’t worry mommy,” Davy said, looking up from his picture, “you will always be able to find me. When I hide, I go under my bed.”
Claire smiled and stroked his hair. “Thank you for helping me not be scared of losing you Davy.” “I will always help you mommy.” His attention on his mom, he accidentally pushed so hard he broke the crayon. Would mommy’s friend be mad?
Dr. Berman said, “Davy, you helped you mommy with her scary. Would you like your mom to help you finish your black scary now that we have two black crayons?” Davy smiled at her; she wasn’t scary at all. “Yes, mommy take this black crayon. My fingers are getting tired, but I want the entire page darkest black.” Claire and Davy busily made the picture dark black together. “When you are scared, being with someone, like your mommy, can help.” Davy looked up at her and said, “My mommy told me to always tell her if I had a nightmare.” “That’s a great idea Davy, scary things get smaller when you have someone you love helping you.”
Davy looked at his mommy, busily making black swirls on his paper, just like the ones he had been making. “You are really helping me mom.” Claire looked up and smiled at him, “always tell me Davy when you are scared; I will always help you.”
Davy is learning that not everyone experiences the same things as scary. He fears his father Larry. Claire fears being alone and not able to find Davy. He is also learning that there are things he can do to help his mother when she is scared, and that she wants to help him when he is scared. Davy is young so to truly learn these lessons, he will need a lot more practice.
Have you ever tried to use play to teach your child something? Davy is at an age where he may want something immediately. The moment he realizes he is hungry- he wants the food to magically be ready. However, you could use play to teach him how to be patient. One fun play activity for learning to control impulses and be patient is baking.
You get everything ready in advance to minimize “waiting time.” You need a bag of cookies, a scissors, and to have the oven set at about 300 degrees. Have plates and napkins in a pile. What could be a first step that involved Davy? He could go get the scissors from the counter, walk with it, pointy side down, and then use it to open the bag of cookies you are holding. He could then watch you take three cookies out and put them in a row; you could say things like, “I pick them up carefully, so they won’t break, I like to eat BIG cookies not broken pieces.” He could then put the rest of the cookies out. He could help hold the cookie sheet as you put it in the oven to warm up for two minutes.
While it is in the oven, you can say things like, “we must stand back, so we won’t get burned by the oven. Do you see that pile of plates and napkins? Please put them on the table for when our cookies are hot and ready to eat.” If Davy is struggling to stay away from the stove, you can say things like, “I can’t wait for those cookies to be warm, they taste so good when they are warm. “it’s hard to wait, but can you begin to smell the cookies?”
Davy is old enough that two minutes won’t be too hard for him to wait. But, if he was only three years old, you might need him to do jumping jacks or some other physical activity to keep busy until the two minutes are done. You could say things like, “sometimes it is easier to wait if you give yourself something to do.”
While you are eating the warm cookies, you can ask Davy, “is waiting worth it when you get to eat warm cookies?” Once you have done this activity a few times, move on to slice and bake cookies which require more “wait time,” approximately 20-30 minutes. Finally, you can move on to baking cookies from scratch which may take up to an hour from beginning to end.
Each strategy works better if you “fill” the wait time with statements that you hope your child will internalize and say to him/herself when needing to wait. As each step gets harder, talk to your child about how the cookie tastes. Ask questions like, “is it worth the longer wait when you make cookies from scratch because then you can make any kind you want, add chocolate or peanut butter chips and so forth. Is it fun to know that when you are a grown up you know lots of ways to make cookies, so you are can make them whenever you want?”
You can use play for older kids. For example, if you had a ten- year -old, you could take him/her to a place that required driving ten minutes, then twenty minutes, then thirty minutes. Again, you would talk about the place you were going, the things that you could do, and what made it worthwhile waiting to get there.
Do you have a child who needs to be more patient? Do you need to learn to be more patient? Consider designing a “play” activity sequence to help you or your child learn to be more patient while having fun together and building the positive strength of your relationship.