My friend and I were doing Special Time together with her 4-year-old son, Cameron, at the local park. There were a lot of bull-ants (a large and very aggressive kind of ant) on the ground.
Cameron told us that ants were very dangerous, and scary, and that we should get out of their way. So following his lead, my friend and I did all the things we could think to do to get away from the ants: we hopped around, we shrieked, we climbed onto the picnic table and danced around on the benches. We pushed each other aside in our haste to get away from the ants; I jumped into my friend’s arms.
The more scared of the ants we looked, the more pleased Cameron got. He giggled and giggled as we frantically tried to get away. His instructions about exactly how to look scared of the ants got more and more specific. “No,” he said, “You can’t walk over there; you have to get up on the table and dance around. Watch out, there are ants on your leg!” After about 20 minutes the timer went off, marking the end of Special Time, and we went home.
In a vague kind of way, I wondered what all the fuss was about the ants. Sometimes, you can make a pretty good guess about what a child’s Special Time is about – after all, as a parent, you know a lot about the life story of your child. But sometimes, you have no idea what experiences the child is trying to work through. However, I’ve done lots of Special Time with young people, and have seen first-hand the benefits – the way it creates a sense of trust and closeness. I trusted that Cameron had worked on what he needed to do. I guessed that laughing at us big people acting like we were deathly scared of ants had drained some tension for him.
Indeed, his mother later told me that she knew exactly what that Special Time was about: not long after Cameron had started to walk, his father had taken him to the park and he had got caught in a bull-ant nest and had been badly bitten.
Cameron’s Special Time highlighted that not knowing the “back story” behind the themes in a child’s play doesn’t mean that the play is not important. Even though Cameron was not much more than 1 year old when he was bitten by the ants, the experience was somewhere in his mind, waiting to be replayed – this time from the safe role of the onlooker who was not being attacked by ants. Giving us instructions about how to act around the ants made it safe for him to laugh off the fear he had been carrying.
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© 2021 by Madeleine Winter.
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