Written by Child and Family Therapist Libby Steele, LPC
If you’ve placed your child in therapy with us, you may have noticed or heard from your child that we “played games.” They may even be more specific, telling you about beating me in UNO, having good luck with Guess Who or losing a close game of Life.
The decision to put your child in therapy to begin with can be an emotionally charged situation, a logistically draining endeavor and an investment. So why would we be spending this precious time playing a round of Crazy 8’s or listening to music?
Here is what I know to be true about working with the developing brain: There is power in just letting the kid’s interest be their interest. In his book, “Killing Monsters,” Gerard Jones explains: when a child shows a genuine, or even passing interest in an activity there is real power in our “shared immersion” in the action.
When their hands are busy, when we are occupied in a friendly competition, more profound conversations easily emerge surrounding a host of topics. These may include:
- How do I feel when I lose?
- Do I sometimes experience rejection? Or Loss?
- Do I ever get embarrassed and what do I do with that difficult emotion?
- How do I experience anger and what does it look like to express that in a productive way? What about a damaging way?
- Am I competitive? Do I like that about myself? Can I channel it appropriately? Does it ever get me into trouble?
- Am I especially good at this game? Something else? How does this affect my self esteem or self confidence?
Adolescents, especially, may seek privacy and use provoking behaviors to create separation between them and their parents. Their job is to grow up and out into the world, AND they still WANT to know you’re hanging in there watching over them. Listen to their choice of music in the car, hear them out about a recent video game success, be openly curious about what it inspires in them. It is tempting to reject their choice of entertainment when it evokes a powerful response in us (especially if that response is anger), but there’s a reason teenagers gravitate towards music with a powerful “counter culture” message. It’s thrilling and validating to hear their fear, anger, jealousy and sadness parroted back to them in song. It makes them feel heard, and seen. Likewise, joining with your child over a familiar game is creating a venue for the safe exploration of harder topics and challenging emotions. When we are in this space of “shared immersion,” we have created a safe bubble around the interaction allowing the child or adolescent to be heard, seen and known in a way that facilitates growth.