Independence and the power of play
I remember the autumn day I decided they were trusted enough to walk on the parallel path, out of my sight until we reached the clearing up ahead.
I can still feel the immediate regret that followed when I found myself calling their names and not hearing a response. Head hot, and heart pounding, I interrupted the birds and squirrels seasonal preparations with a loud cry for my cubs.
Nothing but the call of a nearby blue jay.
Raise In Place is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support connection-first families, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Could they hear me? Maybe their little voices couldn’t reach me over the hills. We had hiked this path nearly 100 times. There’s no way they were lost.
I immediately began scanning my memories for inspiration. Forests. Kids. Katniss Everdeen and her 4-note whistle to Rue! Maybe there was something to it?
I decide it was worth a try.
“Cookoo” I call, giving it my most curious and inviting tone.
For what feels like a full minute, I listen to the leaves rustle and the sound of squirrel teeth on chestnuts.
”Cookoo” they return.
Later that week, I call a family meeting to formalize on our forest calls. I want their ideas; their buy in.
“Alright forest adventurers. If we’re going to explore further from mum, we need a plan.” We quickly come to an agreement.
A “Cookoo” is a check in. Can you hear me? How far are you my little bird.
An “Ah-Ooooo” is stop and drop what you’re doing and come back to me my little wolf cub.
When I invite in more independence, and with it increased responsibility, I can find myself absorbed by the role of the enforcer, dutifully repeating the terms of our agreement with a certainty that only I find comforting. Sometimes yelling it into the wind not expecting anyone to reply, before realizing I can do better for them and for myself.
This little moment of connection reminds me that we don’t have to give up play when we increase responsibility. In fact, play can often help encourage cooperation. The 3 year old who plays the role of the teacher will often be more patient with other little ones not following instructions. The 12 month old who’s pretending to be the daddy will wipe the table and floor after a spaghetti dinner. The siblings pretending to be ducklings will encourage each other to follow and listen to mama duck when crossing the road.
Play behaviour shape the mind too.
And play doesn’t just benefit our little ones directly - although kids who feel safe learn more than their fight-or-flight-mode peers. Studies show that adults who play with their children are better able to regulate their own emotions. Soak that one up, friends - play is powerful!
And there are SO many different ways to play that don’t include roughhousing or physical play - word play, silly faces, role-playing. There is a type of play that fits you.
Can you see yourself inviting play into moments of greater independence and responsibility?
Are you receiving this from a friend? Get your very own weekly Raise In Place by becoming a free or paid subscriber.