Play As A Way of Mastering Conflict

Dr. Corinne Masur

In our mother-child group the other day a four year old repeatedly knocked into his 1 year old brother. He did it with a little smile and glanced at his mother every time – so we knew it was no accident!

What to do? His mother was exhausted with telling him “NO!” every time, with giving time outs and with talking to him.

We got out the puppets and had the crocodile bite the turtle. Repeatedly. Both the older and the younger brother were fascinated. While I thought we were doing this for the 4 year old, the one year old picked up the crocodile and brought it over to me many times over the course of our meeting that day. And the older brother immediately took the crocodile puppet out of my hand and began biting the turtle himself. After he was satisfied he then got down on his hands and knees and began to crawl around, saying “gaagaa,” telling us how much easier it would be for him if he were a baby. We made a little nest for him with a soft blanket and his mother played it up calling him “baby” and “protecting” him from his one year old brother. The 4 year old lay there contentedly until it was snack and story time and only got up at his mother’s urging.

Play is the child’s way of mastering difficult emotions and events. This 4 year old is filled with envy – his little brother has it easy – and he gets SO much of their mother’s attention. This 4 year old needed a safe way to have his aggression acknowledged and played out. This time it was puppets. What will it be next time?

Parents can help their children with upcoming events that may be difficult by playing them out ahead of time – a visit to the doctor can be played with stuffed animals – and the future patient can be the “doctor,” administering shots and pills galore.

And play can be used for ongoing issues which are hard – as we did in this week’s group.

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