Play – the way to a child’s heart and mind

By H&W on 4th Mar 2019

Paris Goodyear Brown has become a recognized figure on the subject of Play Therapy. It was the subject of her TEDx talk in 2018. She spoke to Health and Wellness Magazine about her work at Nurture House-and her forthcoming workshop at the Nashville Health & Wellness Fest, June 1st.

The concept of understanding a child’s behavior or helping address and solve trauma through observing them play is not new. But at Nurture House, started by Paris Goodyear Brown, they have taken it to a new level.

From the moment you walk into their cosy Franklin based office, it’s clear it’s all about the children. No dreary waiting rooms in souless medical offices, each room is ablaze with kid friendly colors and decor with shelves covered in toys and games of every description. Here, maybe for some of the young visitors, for the first time in their lives they come first. They immediately become the primary focus of Paris and her team’s attention.

But this all didn’t happen overnight. Paris Goodyear Brown spent a long time reaching this point. A degree in Drama and Psychology from Duke University did not lead to a career on Broadway as she had originally thought, but to a role as children’s counsellor, helping manage inner city dysfunctional kids with behavioral problems. She loved it so much a degree in Clinical Social work followed and more years dealing with kids who “had been kicked out of childcare and who needed help connecting again”,as Paris explains. “I learned so much I stayed with it and moved into private practice, while I was there I went to my first Play Therapy Conference and fell in love with the belief that play is the primary language of children.” She spent more time teaching and in due course training others about Play Therapy, which led, after 19 years in private practice, to the creation of The Nurture House.

She believed that for it to work every one of her team had to “be speaking the same language” when they met children who came to them. “They have to be treated the same way by everyone they meet, to make them feel safe…you (and the children) cannot learn unless you feel safe and loved.”

“They have to be treated the same way by everyone they meet, to make them feel safe…you (and the children) cannot learn unless you feel safe and loved.”

During a visit to Nurture House the homelike, comfortable, environment encourages children to relax and feel at ease. Paris elaborates: “Kids learn through play, their work is play. It’s how they are taught and learn to navigate their World. Through physical interactions with other kids, they learn how to negotiate. For some kids finding the words to describe something is difficult, but through play they can do this.” Paris and her team have countless examples of how children use toys, model human figures and plastic animals to explain in their way traumas they have witnessed or experienced. It’s a medium in which they are comfortable, in control and helps express themselves far better than they can in words.

It’s all about building trust, something children may have lost (or never found) in their normal home environment. So when they come to Nurture House it’s one of many things they do to put children at ease. Building trust between themselves, the child and its parents or care givers.

During the initial visit Paris and her team will sit down, firstly, alone with the parents to ascertain their thoughts and concerns, then with the child only to observe their play behavior, then with the whole family together. “We can then see how the relationship is working and how it needs to be adjusted. For example in divorce situations which can be very traumatic for children, we have to make sure both parents are telling the same story-and avoid one ‘throwing the other under the bus’ as can be the case”. Mixed messages to a child can be confusing and counterproductive.

How long this ‘adjustment’ can take varies. Some families come only for this initial Assessment others stay for sessions that make last weeks, even months. Paris maintains many problems arise from families being pulled in too many directions. “Frequently families have parents who are too busy holding down two or even more jobs, or have too many school commitments – they have lost the ability to be together as a family. This can lead to problems. So we encourage and help families to recognize their problems and talk about them.”

Adding to these problems is the insidious influence of social media and the amount of time children waste on ‘screen time’. Paris argues: “Social media and the amount of time children spend on line is creating a whole new problem for parents. Those who may have had trouble setting other behavioral boundaries now have a new set to deal with. By spending so much time in a virtual reality it limits the abilities of children to socially connect in real life. They are not using their brains to connect with people in a real way, have meaningful conversations, to be kind, and use their voice to communicate.” She adds, “social media for teenagers leaves them isolated and disconnected with the real world. They see others doing wonderful things on line but they can’t keep up. They have become addicted. Parents have to limit their usage of social media and screen time, set boundaries. Have a time in your house when phones are put away, not taken to bed at night, and encourage conversation over dinner!”

“Social media and the amount of time children spend on line is creating a whole new problem for parents.”

She maintains it’s too easy to say “well that’s just the way it is. Parents have to feel empowered enough to control this environment at home”.

On a broader note Paris believes many of the problems she sees in children who come to Nurture House could be avoided-or picked up earlier, if everyone who has contact with children were more ‘trauma informed’. By which she means it should not just be parents keeping an eye out for trouble, but teachers, day care workers, coaches,  “even bus drivers” should be aware of the types of problems children have to deal with and know what to do if they see signs that not all is well. Problems caught early are much easier to resolve.

Ultimately Paris believes too many of us are ‘going too fast and failing to connect with our friends and loved ones’, and the fallout can affect Children and frequently the whole family. Which is why her talk at the upcoming Nashville Health & Wellness Fest will concentrate on looking after yourself so you can better look after others.

Nashville Health & Wellness Fest, held on June 1 at Vanderbilt Recreation & Wellness Center
Wholeness in relationships: Balancing kindness, connection and a core sense of self.
June 1st 1.30-2.15pm.
Presented by Paris Goodyear Brown, Nurture House

In our high-speed, digital world, it is hard to find and maintain healthy relationships. Good relationships set us up to be our best selves, while unhealthy relationships can make us sick. Come learn about the need we all have for connected, life-giving relationships, how healthy boundaries give us freedom be kind, and how we protect our core sense of self while walking through life in intimate relationship with others. Workshop presenter, Paris Goodyear Brown explains further what she’ll be discussing:

“We are going too fast and are too busy to connect with each other in loving ways-that’s part of how we stay health”, explains Paris Goodyear Brown. “We frequently are saying ‘Yes’ to everything and ‘No’, too infrequently, so our boundaries are getting stretched all the time. Demands are being made upon us in every area of our lives”.

“In this workshop I want to discuss how we are spreading ourselves too thin, and how you can develop healthy boundaries by saying ‘No’ when dealing with others. I want to help people reflect on ‘what I must do’ to become a more purposeful, intentional person, both giving and receiving. I’ll offer ideas on how you can ‘re set’ your life and discover your core, inner self, and go away from the workshop being able to connect and build better relationships with those around you”.

To book your space at this workshop, go to www.nashvillehealthandwellnessfest.com.

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