Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29 - Play's Dark Side

                While our play is fun, an awesome learning experience, even great for developing great relationships within our family, it does have a bit of a price.  I would be out of line if I didn’t share the dark side too.  Our dark side brings frustration for Mama and Papa and many devious attempts from Nate and Elli to avoid it all together…  Sometimes it even brings a certain amount of pain and tears.  The dark side has to be conquered to enjoy play. 

                This dark side is of course the mess, or rather the cleaning up of the mess that our play often creates.  As we remain in an almost constant state of play, we live in a cluttered house.  It is a rare moment when every toy is on the shelf.  As I look around now after an afternoon of cleaning I still see an upturned pillow pet, a piece of bread (wooden of course) on the floor, various books, a recycled boat/plane creation, binoculars, a handful of cars just to name a few things that got “missed.”  However, the Legos are all away as I requested, and so is the tea set.  I am told that this stage will pass, that one day I will have a tidy house, but for now the giggles of the football game outside overrule the desire for perfectly tidy. 

                I was told by several people early on that a clean house at this stage of life means that I don’t spend enough time enjoying and playing with my children.  This was an incredibly freeing revelation.  I do however have a responsibility to teach my children to be good stewards of their belongings and our house.  This is a delicate balance and as they get older they are sharing more of the responsibility of the work behind play.  This does not always go over well.

                David Elkind identifies three primary drives* for us.  Love, play, work.  He goes on to say that we cannot enjoy one if the others are not present.  This is true of our play.  If we do not do the “work” related to play, our play is not as enjoyable.  Nate always loves it when his room is clean, spending hours playing in it shortly after each thorough cleaning.  This cleaning is often painful.  He has to throw out some of his collections to create space.  Sometimes there are tears.  He has to give up some play time to tidy up.  There may be more tears.  However the end result is worth it and he finds reward in a more spacious enjoyable play space. 

                Nate is starting to really get it.  Sometimes you have to clean to be able to play.  Today was one of those cases.  There was something that he and Elli wanted to do, but I said the Legos had to be picked up first.  I was working on dinner in the kitchen.  Every few minutes I’d hear, “Elli!” in an exasperated tone.  “Elli, we not going to be able to go for a walk if we don’t pick up.  You want to go for a walk don’t you?  Well me and Mama are going to go and you’ll have to stay here!”  Then I would hear Nate picking up some more.  “Elli!”  He was getting really grouchy.  Elli was not cooperating or doing her fair share.  Finally I called him into the kitchen for this conversation:

“Nate, you’re feeling really frustrated that Elli won’t help, but yelling at her isn’t helping her want to help you.”

“No, I’m the only one who’s cleaning!”

“Well, that’s not quite true; Mama’s working on the dishes and making dinner.  How about if you try something different with Elli?  What if you made cleaning into a game, not one with winners and losers, but a game?” 

Nate skips out of the kitchen.

“Elli, why don’t we play a game without winners and losers where we throw the Legos into the bucket!”

                Eureka!  Within five minutes they’re telling me they’re almost done.  I come and inspect, sure enough they are.  They’re getting into this cleaning thing.  I give them a few more manageable tasks.  I can vacuum!  I’m happy!

                While I do not have this dark side of play conquered I’m working on it.  I realized today as I was listening to Nate try to get Elli to help that he probably sounds like I often do when I’m trying to get them to clean.  Yikes!  Time for a new strategy. 

I spy anyone?

* I think that we identify other drives/needs beyond these three.  Elkind relates these other needs back into these three.

Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

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