When playlistening happens in therapy, the therapist lets the child direct some time in playful games or activities that he chooses. The therapist co-operates with them on what they want to play or do, receiving their instruction and looking for what makes the child laugh.
How does this look? It could be in the form of “I think you should colour everything red,” during a coloring session, to which the therapist happily complies. But it could also be, “I am going to lock you in jail and have you eat bugs,” after which the child spoon feeds the therapist make-believe bugs. The therapist will submit to eating them, but may be mock-disgusted in them, spitting them out or choking on them. His or her reaction will be prompted by what makes the child laugh most.
Play is important for all children. But it can be especially useful with children recovering from trauma. This type of playlistening, where a child takes a powerful lead gives a child space to play out and explore issues they have experienced. Laughter, used to aid emotion release, helps to loosen the fears and tenseness a child might hold onto or stuff away following trauma, and putting them in charge helps foster competence and confidence moving forward.
Playlistening is one of five Hand in Hand tools that can be used to provide trauma-informed caregiving and set up trauma-sensitive environments. They focus on establishing connected, attached emotional relationships, and can be learned during therapy sessions and used outside of it by caregivers, parents and teachers to support the child in their day-to-day lives.
Here is how the tools could be applied to and used within the Boston Trauma Center’s ARC Framework:
This strand looks at where the caregiver rates in the limbic system and how they attune, relate and respond to the trauma event, and the child’s behaviors and emotional response.
Hand in Hand Tool: Special Time
Special Time is a one-on-one child-led playtime that is a powerful, efficient and effective way to build a child’s sense of connection with their caregiver and makes sure that the child gets regular, solid attention and attunement. Special Time quickly and deeply strengthens a child’s feelings of connection to caregivers.
Examines how caregivers and the child co-regulate within the context of relationship.
Hand in Hand Tool: Staylistening, Listening Partnerships
Staylistening helps caregivers to anchor a child during emotional outbursts and moments when the emotions of early experiences have been triggered and there is dis-regulation in the system. The tool provides a containing regulatory environment where a person can offload and reset his limbic alarms.
Listening Partnerships are the parallel process for adults charged with providing this anchoring, which can be emotional draining and re-triggering for them. Parents will take turns listening and attuning to another adult who offloads and retune their system for a set amount of agreed time.
Helps children to develop confidence, a solid, self-concept and competence.
Hand in Hand Tool: Playlistening
Offers a simple, accessible and fun way to re-build the confidence and competence that is impacted when children have traumatic experiences and their coping systems become overwhelmed. Role-reversal roleplays and physical play and roughhousing are recommended. In a wrestling game, the adult would put up a struggle that the child can fight against but ultimately win, in a chase game, an adult may comically stumble and fall or never catch the child, although the child will catch them.
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