(Excerpted from Beth’s book: Fun Games and Physical Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt: Get On Your Feet.)
Kids played with miniature figures back in the day before games with batteries, keyboards and electronic screens had been invented. This wasn’t just because technological, sedentary play wasn’t around, yet, but because of the psychological benefits that pretend play with miniatures provided. Kids could feel better when they played in this manner. Through this medium, children could create a more positive world for themselves, build hope for their future which improved their own emotional resiliency, and mentally practice what they desired for their own well-being. In other words, at least through play, they had some control over something in their lives.
One of my favorite safety–security–protection-trust pretend play themes with miniature figures when I was a child living in an unstable birth home was about the “saving of Sally.” Sally was a young cowgirl on horseback (me, of course) who lived with her grandfather and his two cowboy employees on a large ranch. Any time a storm would blow up, or outlaws would come, or lions and tigers and bears would attack, the grandfather and the two cowpokes would protect Sally and all the farm animals from harm. Sally never had to worry. She wasn’t on her own. The problem-solving and the acts of bravery were initiated and carried out by others greater than her.
Sometimes, the adults in the pretend-play drama would rescue Sally before she had a chance to know that something was wrong. Sometimes, she ran to them first because she had seen trouble coming. The adult miniatures always took care of it, whatever it was. I practiced, through Sally and her guardians, that there were adults out there who could and would take care of me, and who genuinely cared for me enough to do so. Mental practice of a desired real-life outcome can be beneficial. In a way, pretend play with miniatures becomes like a prayer.
Some children need help in making their pretend play with miniatures constructive. Adults have to get involved if a child is creating a trauma drama with more fear and hopelessness as the end result. I remember the little boy in my therapy office who kept putting Jesus in the closet of the toy house he was playing with. He told me that he had to protect Jesus because the burglars were coming. If the child had to protect Jesus, then who was going to protect him? So, his adopted mom and I helped transform the Jesus miniature into…Ninja Jesus! We had the little boy instead practice, through repetitive play, Jesus keeping him and the family safe from any and all forms of destruction he could dream up. While Jesus was keeping the home and inhabitants safe, the pretend family, including the little boy’s miniature of himself, were sleeping safely, soundly and peacefully in their beds.
Adult caregivers have to assist and turn the play around if it becomes unhealthy, so a template for safety-security-protection and trust can be developed and practiced. The brain remembers what the body practices. And practice makes perfect.