It’s been a running joke in my family that I’ve been a 40-year-old woman since I was a child. I’ve always been on the more serious, intellectual side of things, and “play” was never a prominent aspect of my personality or focus.
Then, the first place I worked at after my undergrad was a PRTF for kids 5-18. The kids have experienced significant traumas and there was much training on how to best care for them. One of the things they stressed is having PACEful interactions with the kids: Playing, Accepting, Curious and Empathetic. It wasn’t always my first response. But when I was incorporating play into my interactions with the kids, it often led to greater connection, more joy and fewer meltdowns.
Now, I follow my toddler son around most of the time. I’m still working on play being a more common state I have, but the laughter, hugs and sweet joy felt when my son and I are playing together is something I desperately wish I could bottle up and save.
An important aspect of play that I love is that the process is far more important than the outcome. How many things in your life fit that? I know that for me, many things are driven by an end goal or a desired end outcome. There are very few things where I do them just because I love the sole act of doing them. So, when I do find something that is playful, I notice I’m effortlessly in the present moment. There are no to-do lists on my mind, no critical evaluations running through my head on how I’m doing, and no care as to what time it is or other things I should be doing.
And I think it’s important to note that play can look a variety of different ways. There are the more commonly known ways of heading to playgrounds, playing outside and running around, coloring and playing with toys. But play can also be reading a book, going to a concert, watching a sports team you enjoy, cooking. Play often brings more active things to my mind, but play can also be more passive and calm. It’s things that allow you to be fully present, enjoying the process of what it is you are doing.
For me, I love reading. I’m not in a season of being able to travel much, but I can open a book and be taken on many adventures. I love bike riding with my son, going to parks and adventuring in the woods or open fields as much as we play on the playground. I love watching sports with my husband and rooting for my favorite teams (although anxiety does enter the picture here, along with playfulness). And I love stepping onto my back deck on a beautiful day taking care of my plants and flowers and then going on whatever adventures my son may have in mind.
I’m just there. Being. Enjoying.
So, as we head into the winter months and things can get tough for many in their mental health, may you find room for play. To just be and enjoy.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC