For several years as I have worked with children in traumatic circumstances - from those suffering from chronic disease, to those suffering the after effects of war, to those living in poverty- I have wondered about the long term impact on their physical and mental health. I wondered if play could help.
The path is an obvious one for someone like me. When I was a little girl my younger sister suffered from cancer and died at the age of three. Though barely seven, I recall sitting in my father's lap being told the news and the image is so vivid I could paint it. It wasn't too much longer until he began drinking and a few years more until my parents' marriage fell apart. They had been married on Halloween. One year things were so bad that I hand drew jack-o-lantern invitations for an anniversary party I would throw just as things got really bad. The party would be so wonderful that their marriage would be saved. Every year I would pull the invitations out of my secret drawer and wonder if this was the right year. But, I waited to long to work the magic and suddenly it was too late.
My study of play and early childhood has led me to reading about toxic stress in children. An organization on whose Executive Board I am honored to serve -International Play Association (ipaworld.org) -is currently working on play interventions for children in periods of extreme crisis. As an example, we have and will continue to be working with Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and beyond.
Tonight I stumbled on a wonderful TED talk by a pediatrician in San Francisco who so clearly explains how trauma in early childhood stays with the child forever and leads to significant problems later in life. I HIGHLY recommend listening to this talk. You will be hearing much, much more about toxic stress and trauma in our youngest Atlantans. We must do something and waiting just isn't an option.
What If You Add Play?