Why your kids are making tents, playing ‘doctor’ and dodging ‘lava’ during the pandemic
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak my kids have been building tents, houses and forts. My playroom is basically a shanty town of wobbly nooks, draped with towels for roofs and make-shift cardboard walls. All this started during the pandemic and as a person on the road to becoming a Psychoanalyst, I’m interested as to why.
Play is serious!
Play is not just fun and games. As David Hockney said, “We tend to forget that play is serious”. This is because through play, kids work out their inside worlds and create order for themselves. I wish I could play a bit these days because let’s face it, the world is in a bit of a muddle.
Play helps manage difficult feelings
In an earlier article I told you about how Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud first noticed this when he was watching his four-year-old grandson play with a simple cotton reel. He noticed how whenever the toddler’s mom left the room, the boy would use his index finger to push away a cotton reel and then roll it back towards himself. This game happened over and over again until his mom came back. Freud realised that through this simple game, his grandson was managing the worries that came up inside himself whenever his mom left him. You see, she was the cotton reel and the rolling back and forth was the way he reminded himself that mommy always comes back. While the little boy had no conscious idea about what he was doing, his play helped him work something out and sooth the unbearable. In this way, play helps kids cathartically express their emotions and push away negative feelings, by replacing them with something that feels good.
So what games are kids playing during Covid-19?
I took to Facebook and asked moms what their kids are playing during the pandemic, and so many similarities came up:
An oldie but a goodie – so many kids are playing doctor right now. On a normal day this is a firm favourite, but all the more interesting during a time when kids can’t go outside because the world is getting sick. Now, by default, kids are omnipotent: They believe (from birth) that the world revolves around them. A really important part of growing is that they gently come to realise they don’t own the people around them and can’t fix everything in the world just because they want to. But OMG they will try their hardest to make it so! Starting with checking their siblings and pets relentlessly for failures and making the world well again.
The floor is lava
Have you seen the new Netflix show “The Floor is Lava” where contestants jump around from side table to bed to chair to avoid the lava and save themselves. Interesting given that we are all running around in masks avoiding all the corona-hotspots right now. So many moms reported that their kids are obsessed with this show and are mimicking this experience by bouncing from couch to cupboard avoiding the carpet. Well it makes sense, given that during this tricky time we are all protecting ourselves and avoiding danger… so the game perfectly replays the outside reality and the inside dilemmas that it rattles.
Tents, houses and nests
My 3-year-old insists on watching TV in what she calls a ‘nest’ which is basically a pile of pillows enveloping her so she can just peer through a crack to watch the screen. Why does she love it so much? Well what’s the safest place you’ve ever known where no one could touch you and all your needs were met? The womb of course. Well my home is FULL of wombs at the moment. She sits in a laundry basket, wraps herself in five blankets and a duvet while eating lunch, makes houses out boxes or creates cozy houses under the bed. All this activity could unconsciously be a way to revisit a time when she was safest of all and the world was good.
Play helps kids help themselves during the pandemic
This pandemic has brought up the toughest of feelings in both our kids and us. The world feels shaky right now and one way our kids are managing this is through play. Children don’t necessarily have the emotional vocabulary to express their worries. So when they can’t talk: They play, manipulate objects and each other, and let off some steam in a fun embodied way. So actually it is essential that our kids have a lot of free time right now to interrogate their toy boxes, explore their spaces and play with each other – that way there will be a little less for us parents to manage… at the end of a very long and scary day.