I believe I am a fairy godmother and I believe in the magical power of play: to heal, to sooth, to teach. Professionally (but more mundanely) I am a play therapist. I work with abused, neglected and traumatized children or, more accurately, play with them.
The children who come to my playroom are often in the foster care system, or being raised by grandparents, aunts, or other family members who aren’t their parents. Many of my children (and their mothers) have no idea who the child’s father is, or if they do know who he is, they have no idea where he is. They may not have had a stable adult in their lives when they were very young and forming their personality and beliefs about the world and themselves.
I believe in the power of play to heal, transform, and engage young lives that have often been touched by tragedy and sometimes multiple tragedies. Play allows these children to reimagine the world with all its monsters and unpredictable events, but this time in a safe space with a compassionate, caring adult to share the experience with them. It gives them the ability to rework emotionally challenging situations in their lives, but this time the child is in control. Their imagination is a safe place with an adult who respects limits.
With safety assured, children work magic in the playroom. They defeat monsters and bad parents. The play can be very frightening and unnerving to us both, but it is based on their experiences in the world. They may recreate abusive, dangerous situations peopled with monsters, witches or natural disasters. But this time, their fairy godmother is there to experience their anger or help them express it and still care and nurture them even as they show the parts of themselves that scares them.
I have died a thousand deaths in the playroom – been stabbed, shot, burned, kicked, attacked by dogs, struck by tornadoes, and stalked by monsters as I become a stand-in for abusive or neglectful parents who have created rage in their children. Through my ability to withstand their sometimes murderous rage, they learn to trust adults again. And so I have also been embraced and nurtured—fed a thousand meals by children who learn to trust again and want to relate to adults in a loving, caring way.
In the playroom, abused and traumatized children experience a different kind of adult – one who cares about them and cares for them; keeping them safe in the playroom while encouraging their imagination and tolerating their most negative emotions. These children can carry their memories of a safe, caring place with them in the world. They can also carry the memory of a relationship based on respect and trust.
Through play children can problem-solve and come up with new ideas to use in situations. While they may recreate the same scene many times, they will begin to make modifications to it to resolve it in a new and healthier way.
And while I am a fairy godmother, it’s the kids who make the magic.
In contrast to the fairy-tale fairy godmother, I do not make the magic. I provide the structure, safety and acceptance for children to make their own magic.