In 2012 Pinar Demiral co-founded the organization Art Anywhere, which runs the Sirkhane Social Circus School. The school, located in an old house on the border, teaches children how to be circus performers as a form of therapy. Mr. Demiral says the program “helps war weary children overcome trauma" and is based on a very basic principle: "to make the children happy.” He also says, “The children who deserve their happiness, their childhood – they need to have space where they . . . can feel fully like they are living their childhood as it should be.”
An internet search on “play as therapy for trauma” yields millions of results. Studies are exhaustive on the powerful effects of play on those who have experienced trauma. Play provides a healthy escape as the person returns to their “childhood” whether he or she is an adult or still a child. Play brings a smile; it brings laughter and allows for creativity to think about the good in life.
Children and youth around the world are losing their right to be kids in the midst war, famine, poverty, and dysfunction. Children are also impacted by tragic or sudden deaths of family members or friends, natural disasters, abandonment, trafficking, physical/social abuse, and divorce. Though our children and youth are resilient, escaping the traumas of life is all but impossible.
Several weeks ago I was playing wiffle ball at the park with the youth of our church. Stepping up to the plate, with the plastic bat in my hands, I waited for the pitch while waving the bat like a nervous major leaguer. At that moment I remembered all the summer evenings of the past where my then Baltimore backyard became a stadium and where laughter, arguing, and throwing the ball at one another were all a part of the game. It was another powerful reminder of how play could bring out the best in us and make us happy.
James Howell, in 1659, said: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I would also add it makes Jack an anxious boy. The stress and pace of our culture have curtailed the value of recreation. The desks of kids are piled high with homework; Advance Placement classes dominate the lives of youth. Year round sports and the pressure to be at the top has, in many cases, taken the joy out play. Adults endure long work weeks and barely sneak in time for exercise, let alone moments to re-create. Add trauma to this bowl of ingredients, and the impact is compounded.
Though there are many responses to trauma, play is often forgotten. When we have been traumatized, or we are walking with those who have been, one of the answers is simply to play. Our complex minds in a complex culture resist the notion of a simple answer, but this is one time where less is more.
When someone has been traumatized, going to play may sound counter-intuitive. However, a good friend will grab that person by the hand and say, “Come, let’s go do something fun.” The beauty of play is it can take many forms. It may be a board game, it may be watching a sport, it may be interactive. Whatever it takes to have fun, cracking a smile and laughing for a bit is therapeutic and cleansing for the heart, soul, mind, and body.
How are you practicing play in a proactive way to de-stress your life? In what game or recreational setting do you feel most playful? Who in your life needs your outstretched hand inviting them to play?
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