She was just a little nugget when she arrived six weeks early, five years ago today. A tiny little fighter, who defied the nurses by yanking the feeding tube out of her nose and eating on her own days ahead of schedule. This should have tipped us all off to just how precious and precocious she would become. Eden is the first grandchild; a giggly, sassy, focused, artistic little kiddo with an imagination to be envied. If she can conceive it, she can create it, either with colored pencils or random toys convened to become whatever she proclaims them to be.
The best part about grandparenting is being able to just “be” with the children. Of course, there are times when my daughter needs me to babysit, help with baths, meals, or bedtime. But for the most part, I get to just watch, listen, and validate. A couple of weeks ago, on my first visit to her new house, I had the chance to help Eden hang some of her treasured artwork on the walls of her room. She was intent on making it fancy! Lots of colorful drawings hung haphazardly with blue painter’s tape (much to her mother’s chagrin), with the crown jewel being a chandelier. What five-year-old wouldn’t covet (and therefore create) a chandelier for their bedroom?
Practicing play therapy also is about getting to watch, listen, and validate. Child-centered play therapy is a modality punctuated by the practice of unconditional positive regard. In simpler terms, by allowing the child to lead, and by refraining from assumptions or directions or questions or criticisms, I can send a clear message of full acceptance or, more explicitly, “I do not wish you were different in some way”. Once a child is freed to feel okay about themselves just as they are, that is when they become open to change.
Obviously, there are many times during the day when kids need to be directed. But having brief intervals when they can play unhindered in the company of an adult who makes them feel unconditionally accepted and cherished is a gift that all children should receive. I am filled with gratitude for the times I get to just “be” with Eden and her little brother. I watch as the wheels turn in their heads, as they get ideas and play them out… and I experience a sense of wonder and connection to moments from my own childhood, when play was the order of the day. Playing is self-healing. As a grandparent, and a therapist using play therapy, I get the privilege of serving as witness to this natural and dynamic process. (Landreth, 2012).