Playing, Freeing the Mind, and Being Oneself

This week, even the typically developing teens with whom I work demonstrated they’re very best through play. Their up and down turbulence took a detour but stayed on a path with direction. These teens did so freely, together, and when they were done were able to recognize their own accomplishments through their play.

I think our biggest obstacle to accomplishment is often our own critical minds. Music helps us to take a detour, forget for a while, and de-clutter the fog that the critical mind creates. This week, while working with a group of teen boys who often set one another off in such a manner as the domino effect, play in music aided the boys to free their minds and be themselves. Poor impulse control, tempers, and the inability to ignore others turbulence pervades this group.

On first appearances, structure and play often seem contrary to one another. However, when they work together in partnership, they can foster some of our most healthy, innovative, and creative moments.

Every session opens with the tune “We’re Gonna Play.” The tune states:

“Hey hey, hey hey. We’re gonna play, and what we play is all okay. Hey hey, hey hey. Come join our play, and what we play is always great!”

From there, the group members are given the choice to contribute their own way to play and contribute to the group, not once, not twice, but three separate times. The group then follows the leading child’s play. All have the opportunity to choose to lead the play or not. The group looks forward to this opportunity to create each week. This repetitive structure holds the group together. This structure and openness are welcoming, secure, or inviting. Transitioning in and out of the group from one activity to another is always difficult for these boys. This week, the teens had an opportunity to play guitars, which held the status of gold in this group. Because of the way members in this group tend to lose control, guitars can only be used when members are demonstrating gentle touches (on the instruments) and self-control. This week we played “I Love Rock and Roll.” Before gaining a drum, body percussion was the instrument of demonstration. Stomp stomp clap was the beat played. As I watched one boy doing his best to resist anothers invading behaviors, I quietly told him “Great job!” I sat him next to myself with a guitar and told him I needed his help. The invading behaviors were, as intended, starting to affect others in the group. I quickly said,”Okay, strum ,strum, tap,” and continued to sing the chorus. One by one, this caught the others until all but one member was invited to play guitar. I watched the boy who was initially asked to play the guitar lose himself in his playing, moving as if he was on stage. Quietly and in unison, each member retreated to the same freedom while simultaneously staying connected to the group and maintaining positive controlled behaviors. No critical thinking was occurring. No one was being “dorky” or “uncool” in others’ eyes. They all played together except the one child.

If there had been more time to the session, the individual who did not gain the guitar would possibly have lowered his defenses and allowed himself to join the group. Time, repetition, and continuity have provided safety and security to this group. I believe more time would have been they key. Although the non-participator was not actively playing, he remained in the group and was not attempting to distract or disrupt the group. He only watched and listened. At the end of the session, he complained that he did not get a guitar, which was met with his option of choosing. Attending quietly without disrupting was a way of testing the safety ( he is also a newer member to this group).

The inviting group pulse, the strumming guitars, and the opportunity to play with peers overrode the inner turbulence and allowed the group to focus and play together. When the group was finished, the first boy who was asked to play guitar went proudly to the other staff, telling how he ignored poor behavior (a recent direction often heard previously by staff). He played with the group and succeeded in a difficult goal. He left feeling successful in his own personal accomplishments. Others left still chanting the chorus lightly to themselves, replaying the tune and the fun in their heads.

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC

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