Juan was a 7-year-old, sturdy kid with shortly-cropped black hair in the first grade at an inner city public school. Juan’ teacher asked me to work with him on his social skills and impulsivity. My mode of working with children is based on the principles of the child-centered approach, which calls for unconditional positive regard for the child and trust in the child’s ability to find his own way towards healing. This removes the adult-driven agenda as one creates an emotionally supportive play space in which the child explores avenues of his own healing.
The first time I brought Juan into the playroom, he knew exactly what to do.
The toys in my portable play toolkit were chosen to encourage expressive and dramatic play: human figures, rescue vehicles, a toy medical kit, crayons, and playdough. During our weekly sessions, the room itself became part of the play space as well, with its piles of school materials. Each session, Juan would initiate play and instruct me how to play. I served as a willing participant, but I strove to remain in a subservient role, allowing him to direct my actions to suit his needs. I acted as both participant and witness, narrating his play and giving words to the emotions that he played out before me.
Themes emerged, as did routines. One in particular was a challenge for me. At the end of every session, he would avoid putting a stop to his play and refuse to return to the classroom. He would hide behind furniture and boxes, making me feel like an ogre as I prodded and cajoled him out the door. Continue reading