Life's Messy. Play Can Help.

rocket, alien & astronauts
made by my sister

Today is the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion and I'm feeling a bit reflective.  Perhaps partly due to my little guy having a bit of an obsession with everything space these days.

I didn't actually see the explosion live but I remember hearing about it soon thereafter in my high school health class taught by one of the coaches who would share stories of his eczema or whatever skin disorder he had.  I was a sophomore, a good student, but way too shy to really get the attention of that cute boy sitting next to me I had a crush on.  But this tragedy stopped even a self-absorbed teenager in her tracks.  Two women died.  And one was a teacher even.  And everyone saw it on TV and could watch it over and over.

This article points out that Challenger was the first tragedy to unfold on live TV.  And since then we've had "Waco. Oklahoma City. Columbine. 9/11. Shuttle Columbia. Katrina. Virginia Tech. And now, Tucson."  Not to mention war.

On the day of the tragedy in Oklahoma City a bit ironically I was giving a presentation in a graduate class at Iowa State University about whether or not there was a role for feelings in a somewhat new type of therapy called solution-focused.  A month and a half later my then fiance and I drove to Texas for our wedding in Dallas.  We stopped in Oklahoma City and saw the very site.  I'll never forget how quiet it was.

On 9/11 I was a fairly novice college professor who hadn't turned on the TV or radio that morning and didn't hear of the tragedy until I arrived at the college.  I immediately went to the cafeteria and watched the events unfold for the next hour.  At 1:00 I met my class for their first test of the semester (whether or not I should have administered that test is another story).  One student was visibly upset.  I took her outside the room and she told me that her roommate's brother was in New York and they haven't heard from him.

The stories go on and on.

How do children cope with such events?  You guessed it.  They do what comes naturally; they play.  Through play they can make some sort of sense out of that which doesn't make sense.  Through play they can have some control over that which is out of control.  Through play they can release some very powerful emotions.

For example, see this link for more information about art which will be part of the National 9/11 Memorial museum.  I remember, in particular, the children's artwork featured in the book, The Day Our World Changed: Children's Art of 9/11.  For awhile there was a website that shared the images.

I remember going to the 2002 Association for Play Therapy conference and hearing stories from play therapists who had worked directly with children impacted by 9/11.  So very amazing.

But what can we as adults do to cope with such events?  We can use play too in whatever form you choose to do it in.  Some draw, some do drafts, some write poetry, and some exercise.  The point is to just do it.