May 18, 1984
I have mentioned before that play is essential for growth and development. Children learn through play-acting. They imagine themselves to be in all kinds of situations. They see themselves in dangerous predicaments, and then conjure up their own methods of escape. They try out the roles of other family members, imagine themselves rich and poor, old and young, male and female.
This allows children a sense of freedom, independence, and power as they see themselves acting forcibly in all kinds of situations. It goes without saying that the physical play automatically helps develop the body and its capabilities.
To a child, play and work are often one and the same thing, and parents can utilize imaginative games as a way of reinforcing ideas of health and vitality. When a child is ill-disposed or cranky, or has a headache, or another disorder that does not appear to be serious, parents can utilize this idea: have the child imagine that you are giving it a “better and better pill”. Have the child open its mouth while you place the imaginary pill on its tongue, or have the child imagine picking the pill up and placing it in its mouth. Then give the child a glass of water to wash the pill down, or have the child get the water for himself or herself. Then have the youngster chant, say, three times, “I’ve taken a better and better pill, so I will shortly feel better and better myself”.
The earlier such a game is begun the better, and as the child grows older you may explain that often an imaginary pill works quite as well – if not better – than a real one.
This does not mean that I am asking parents to substitute imaginary medicine for real medicine, though indeed, I repeat, it may be quite as effective. In your society, however, it would be almost impossible to get along without medicine or medical science.
While I want to emphasize that point, I also want to remind you that innately and ideally the body is quite equipped to heal itself, and certainly to cure its own momentary headache. You would have to substitute an entirely different learning system, at your present stage, for the body to show its true potentials and healing abilities.
In other cases of child’s illness, have the child play a healing game, in which he or she playfully imagines being completely healthy again, outdoors and playing; or have the youngster imagine a conversation with a friend, describing the illness as past and gone. Play could also be used even in old people’s homes, for it could revive feelings of spontaneity and give the conscious mind a rest from worrying.
Many ancient and so-called primitive peoples utilized play – and drama, of course – for their healing values, and often their effects were quite as therapeutic as medical science. If your child believes that a particular illness is caused by a virus, then suggest a game in which the youngster imagines the virus to be a small bug that he or she triumphantly chases away with a broom, or sweeps out the door. Once a child gets the idea, the youngster will often make up his or her own game, that will prove most beneficial.
Instead of such procedures, children are often taught to believe that any situation or illness or danger will worsen and that the least desirable, rather than the most desirable, solution will be found. By such mental games, however, stressing the desirable solution, children can learn at an early age to utilize their imaginations and their minds in a far more beneficial manner.
One of the most disastrous ideas is the belief that illness is sent as punishment by God.
Unfortunately, such a belief is promoted by many religions. Children who want to be good, therefore, can unfortunately strive for poor health, in the belief that it is a sign of God’s attention. To be punished by God is often seen as preferable to being ignored by God. Adults who hold such views unwittingly often let their children in for a life of turmoil and depression.
In all cases of illness, games or play should be fostered whenever possible, and in whatever form. Many dictatorial religions pointedly refuse to allow their congregations to indulge in any type of play at all, and frown upon it as sinful. Card-playing family games such as Monopoly are actually excellent practices, and play in any form encourages spontaneity and promotes healing and peace of mind.