Transcript: Dauntless Grace – Trauma & Play

This post is a transcript for this one. The audio can be found there.

Deedra: Welcome to the Dauntless Grace Exchange. I’m Deedra.

Megan: And I’m Megan. And today we have Kelsie Olds on our podcast with us. Just real briefly, I first met Kelsie in a Facebook group years and years ago, and then I think I had the pleasure– Deedra and I both met her and her husband in person, I want to say, at a conference in Tulsa where I know Deedra and I spoke at that conference and I can’t, Kelsie, I can’t remember if you did or not.

Kelsie: I did!

Megan: You did. Okay. Okay, great. And so we met you there and since then I’ve just kind of been a fan of the work that you’re doing: on Facebook, on social media, and just the nuance you’re putting out into the world. So we invited you here to talk today. But let me read your official bio, which I want to give you kudos for looking at our instructions– “Please provide us with a brief bio” – because you have given us the most brief bio in the history of bios and I really like-

Kelsie: The only brief thing I’ve ever written! Anybody who follows my work is like, “I’m sorry, she was brief? What?”

M: Well, we’ll like, we’ll let you expand. “Kelsie is both an occupational therapist and The Occuplaytional Therapist, working offline in elementary schools with children and doing online advocacy with caregivers and professionals.” So: the OPT, The Occuplaytional Therapist, Kelsie, welcome to our podcast.

K: I’m super excited to be here.

D: Tell us more about what you do, because it’s really fascinating.

K: Yeah. So in my day job–which makes it sound like it’s not my love and passion, so that’s not true–but I work on a U. S. Air Force base in England, so I’m living in England. My kids go to British school. We shop at English grocery stores, but I work on the base in the elementary school that they have for children of military families. And I say elementary school, but there’s also an intermediate, middle, and high school. They just have fewer kids who need OT services, but I do actually work at all of them.

I provide OT services in the schools that are supposed to be comparable to what they would be able to get, what anybody would be able to get anywhere in the U. S., because being overseas doesn’t mean that you don’t– that you’re not entitled to the same government services. So that’s what my role is here, is providing that for those families.

And that has a lot of overlap with trauma-informed care because it is continuously traumatizing to be a kid and be moved around every two years. And when you’re not moved around, then one-third of the people who are your teachers and your classmates and all of your school staff and everyone are being continuously replaced every year. No one has any continuity of care. And so, um. So that isn’t something that I had as a passion kind of before I came to this job, but it has kind of grown in my time being here.

And then my work online, uh, as The Occuplaytional Therapist, I write a lot about parenting, about OT-ing, about neurodivergence, about respecting children and respecting play, and that children learn through play and how powerful it is.

I speak to teachers and other school professionals and other therapy professionals and also parents and also people who don’t have children, but are kind of looking back with a lens on their own childhood or, or trying to make sense of things they experienced or maybe look at themselves in a new light or with new voices than the ones that were maybe put in their mind throughout their childhood.

D: That is amazing. I, I, I know just a little bit about actual, like, you know, mental health therapy, just a little bit. And knowing what I know now, I would go back and be such a different parent. I’d be a different kid and teenager and young adult, too, to be honest, but I would be a very different parent, and I’m trying to fix some things, like re-parent my own children, instead of the mistakes that I made.

But I just think, like, all the tools you have… I can’t imagine, like, if I also had those tools with my younger children and what that would have looked like. What’s one of the, just the common things that you see that we just don’t do well as a society around play?

K: Oh man, around play. Um, I feel like there is a really pervasive belief that play is only the part of what children go around doing that is like– fun, and activities, and maybe would look good on a picture. Or maybe even if people are like, well, you know, it can be messy or, you know, not photogenic or whatever, but they still think of it as the– the “fun part”. As long as everybody’s having fun and everybody’s happy the whole time.

And I don’t think that that’s true. Play involves a range of emotions and even play by yourself. I remember playing by myself for like hours as a kid where I would, um, I had Beanie Babies, and they were all my orphans in the orphanage, and I would line them all up and take care of them.

And I would be like, kind of narrating stuff, either like whispering it to myself or just like saying stories in my own head– but like terrible, traumatizing things were happening to these Beanie Babies. And I was coming and, like, “helping them”, in my, like, very limited child capacity. And what I was doing was processing stuff I’d heard about, or read about, or maybe knew a little bit about, but not enough to do anything like realistic. But, um, but I wasn’t just like sitting there like “Woohoo! This is a fun happy time!” Like I was thinking sad things, or maybe even being sad, or feeling, you know, like a whole range of feelings.

And then even more so when you throw other people into the mix because then you’ve got to argue over who made this rule, and does that rule still make sense, and are we changing the rule, and how is the game gonna go, and, and, negotiating and bartering and all of those things. And, um, and those involve childish emotions.

And then like in adulthood, you know, still! I play D&D, and that involves all kinds of emotions. I play Dungeons and Dragons. And we’re still acting out all kinds of traumatizing stuff happening to our characters as we fight monsters and go imaginary places. And it’s not, it’s still not just like happy “woo woo woo!” the whole time, because that wouldn’t be profound, it wouldn’t be meaningful.

M: So I think those are really good examples and you’re fleshing that out. Do you have, like, a working definition of the word play, like how you use it?

K: Oh man, what a good question. I don’t, but I should, and I should have it on my page.

D: In 1000 words or less, Kelsie, how would you define it?

K: I, I just think that… Oh man, I’m sure people have… Cause I could name different kinds of play for you, that people have broken down. Like, like social play is one that you’ll see, and it goes through the lifespan, but it’s often the biggest form of play for teenagers. So people don’t necessarily recognize it as play, because it’s not like, lining up toys or rolling cars down a track. But it’s like having inside jokes with people and bantering with them, or wordplay or things like that.

And then, like, all the way back down to, like, the first kind of play that babies engage in is locomotor play where literally just the act of moving is what is the joy and the meaning, the profound meaning. So a baby will just be laying on the floor and they’ll like fling their whole arm in front of their face and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just, I just made something happen.’

And then they’ll fling their whole arm back in front the other way of their face, you know, and, and all they’re doing is taking meaning… So I think I keep saying joy and meaning almost interchangeably. And that sounds like it contradicts–I’m hearing my own self as I say it–sounds like it contradicts what I was just saying about play not being “happy, happy, happy,” but I do think it is meaningful.

And so maybe it’s the thing that fills up everything that isn’t…I don’t know, work and…but I think that, I mean, I play at work all the time. So then that’s hard for me to say that those are exclusive. They’re not. Um, man, that’s a good question.

M: I don’t mean to stump you. I feel like, you know, having the fact that there are lots of different kinds of play for different seasons and different, like, abilities and different growth steps, that is probably why it’s so hard to come up with like, one standard definition of what it is. But I think what you’re hitting on is like making meaning out of something. Like almost kind of unintentionally, like almost stumbling upon it as opposed to having it assigned to you.

K: Yeah, discovering meaning in the world or something like that.

M: That’s so good!

K: It’s also, like, really vague and a little bit wooey, but, um, but it is, like, I do feel like that probably encapsulates how I use it in my work, because I don’t just mean, “Doing an activity that the teacher designated for this time.” Like, that’s super not what I mean, you know?

But it does look real different across the lifespan and at different ages. But then what’s fun to me is that, never do they really like, stop. So, like, locomotor play is like the first one, but then you see other forms of locomotor play when you hit toddler age. And then again, when you hit older and older and older, and then you’ve got adults who are like, “I want to, like, learn new kinds of yoga moves that I’ve never done before, and I’m not, like, getting a reward for it. I’m just finding it intrinsically meaningful to figure out how I can move my body.” It’s not for a sport, I’m not competing, you know? It’s just, I just wanna move my body and see how that is and how that feels.

D: It kinda feels like it’s like unlocking the potential of what we’re capable of too, because it’s, it’s introducing a new skill, like, you know, like the baby found his foot. “Oh, I didn’t know that there was a foot attached to my body yet. Look at that!” Or like, even like you said, as adults with yoga, like, “What can, what are the limitations of my body? What can I do that I didn’t know I was capable of?”

K: Right.

D: And I think that that’s fascinating to me, because I don’t like the discomfort of growing into new spaces, so it feels like someone has to make it a requirement. But that’s what’s the beauty of approaching it through something like play, because… I don’t know. I guess I’m like… So I had to have a word of the year. That was “Play,” and I didn’t even want to announce that to the world because it felt so meaningless. And now, hearing you talk, I’m like, “Oh, that was really meaningful. It was like, it was a rite of passage of growth in my life that I had kind of skipped out on, you know, at one point.”

K: I love that. I think that’s a fabulous word of the year, too.

M: So let’s talk about, like, kind of where play intersects trauma-informed care, whether it’s with parenting our own kids or working with other people or reparenting ourselves. Where does play kind of intersect that?

K: So, a big part of what I do that is maybe different than what other school professionals usually are capable of in a public school setting, and also what other OTs–like, this isn’t–it’s not that what I do is synonymous with all OT in the world because OT is very, very broad. But one of the things that I do is that all of my sessions are–or at least the vast majority, there’s some exceptions–but are tried to be rooted in child-led play.

And so that means that–a lot of standard OT practice, I’m not saying anything is bad or that these are terrible, but it is, it is pretty normal for OTs to be like: “I have set up Activity A, Activity B, and Activity C. And we will go into the room, and we will do Activity A, and then we will do Activity B, and then C. And those all have to do with the kid’s goals, and the kid does them because I say so. And sometimes the kid doesn’t want to do them, but it’s work, and we need to do it.” Or maybe there’s a reward involved, or things like that, like… totally normal kid-relating things.

And instead of that, I have, over the years, slid into a place where, where I feel the most comfortable with my authentic practice is that I set up several stations around the room, but also there’s a lot of free materials in there that are not associated with any particular station, and the ones that I set up have a specific thing in my mind that have to do with the kid’s goals that I’ve written, but the kid might, uh, approach the station and use the materials in a novel way that I wasn’t expecting, or they might bring two things together that I wasn’t expecting. Or they might skip everything that I’ve laid out for them and go to, you know, some novel materials and do that instead.

And I really try to completely follow and be either a partner or a follower or a supporter in their play and not ever the director. The kid is the director.

And so that does mean that sometimes I’m still like nudging in little ways, where they’re like, “I think we should cut out this thing with scissors,” and they just like hand me the scissors or whatever. And I’m like, “Oh, hang on. I’m super busy with this very important thing that I had to do right this second, but I’ll help you in just a sec. Or you can get started if you want.” And then they might be like, “Okay, I could try it.” And then they’ll, you know, they’ll try it themselves.

As opposed to we all sit down in a room and I’m like, “Today’s activity is we are going to cut this out with scissors. Here are scissors. Do it,” you know, and so there’s a lot more of like… hate to say “trickery,” (laughter) but I’m, I’m trying to lean real hard into intrinsic motivation, which is very counter to the way that the public school system is set up in the United States. It is not founded in what is intrinsically motivating to children, um, or at least not all the children in the room and probably not the ones who got called for having services on their IEP. And so that is a way that I do OT in a very novel way.

And then I try to lean– the same philosophy that underlies that, I guess, being able to be in control of play and of the session and if we’re saying play is making your own meaning– then being able to be in control of making your own meaning is really particularly meaningful with the kids I work with right now because of the kind of destabilization or, kind of, trauma of moving all the time, having everyone around you move all the time, your surroundings always being changed. And the school system does not lend itself to, you know, “Kid be in charge.” The school system lends itself to “Please follow the directions and sit down and be quiet and do the thing that I said.”

And so, um, coming to me and being like, “No. In this realm…” Yes, we’re working on goals. And if they’re old enough, then I ask them what they want their goals to be. But even if I’m the one who wrote the goals, I’m like, “I can know that this is helpful for you for your life, but you’re in charge of how we get there.”

Because I feel like that’s a component that’s missing a lot from pediatric OT compared to adult OT anyway. Like, people will still use the word non-compliant to talk about adults in adult OT sometimes, but, for the most part, it’ll be like, you know, you’re having rehab on your wrist because you broke your wrist, or you had carpal tunnel surgery and you’re having rehab, and you drove yourself to this appointment, and you are paying for it or your insurance is paying for it, and you’re voluntarily here, and you want to be able to use your hand again, and you want to do all the things. And then kid OT is like, “We all sat in a room and we decided that there’s a problem with you and I’ve been designated to come, you know, down to you and make you fix that.”

And nothing about that is like the same thing as the empowerment of the way that adult OT is and the way that it leans into making your own meaning. And that’s what I try to bring back. And that’s what I try to put into my online work too, is, is being like, this is how to empower kids. This is how to extend… even when they can’t be in charge of every single little thing, because that’s why they have parents, they wouldn’t necessarily make the best decisions on every single little thing. But still, like, here’s how to be a partner in your own life, even while you’re very young.

M: I think that’s the thing that sticks out to me the most about the posts that I see from you. It’s that you make it very clear, like kids don’t have a lot of natural agency, like you said. They can’t take care of themselves. They can’t feed and clothe and house themselves, or earn their money. And so they are very reliant. And so play– in parenting alone, it just introduces a different kind of agency to the kids to have choice over their own kind of, not just learning, but like how they grow, how they engage with the world. And so, I would think, especially for people who have experienced trauma of any kind or loss and destabilization, like you’re speaking about with the Air Force, they specifically are going to be a lot more childlike in the fact that they haven’t felt a lot of agency, right? They’ve had a lot of that ripped away from them, either through grief or loss or abuse or neglect or any, whatever trauma it was they experienced or just being different in the world. Um, then this play gives them a different sense of agency over discovering and engaging and I love that you just bring that correlation so clearly in the work that you do.

K: And I think sometimes because of that, it can, it can go either way. It can be people will feel very “childlike” or feel very attached to child– I’m, I would put air quotes around “childlike”–but feel very attached to, to interests that are considered childlike, or on the flip side, people might feel like it’s very threatening because when they were a child then they were maybe either expected or even like outright encouraged or explicitly told that they needed to not, you know, be like a child and…and that the things that made them, you know, good, or mature, or mature for their age or whatever were, uh, like, reducing or minimizing the qualities that seemed childlike, you know. And so, um, getting back in touch with that can be threatening or overwhelming or feel like it’s taking steps back or like, it’s gonna, you know, um, make you less…whatever. Less desirable, less mature, whatever it is that someone’s clinging to.

D: Okay, not to, not like, this isn’t about anybody I know, but like, for example…

M: Asking for a friend.

D: Asking for a friend. What would you recommend for someone like you just mentioned that maybe didn’t feel like they could be a child when they were a child because that sense of responsibility or, you know, they just were praised for being, you know, for example, they were praised for being very grown up or mature. What are ways that we can reclaim that?

K: I think that, um… I’ll give an example that is probably very relatable for a lot of people, and also not, like, super duper heavy in terms of, like, significance. And maybe a little bit tangential. But I think that probably there are a lot of women or people who were raised as girls, who might have hated pink and purple. In, like, a backlash against the fact that it was so socialized onto them that they should like pink and purple. I mean, like, legitimately, like “Those are girl colors and those are gross, and blah, blah, blah.”

I might not be talking about anyone who I know either. (laughing) And when I grew up and when– I color my hair, I color it wild colors all the time. And I stuck firmly in the blues range for the first several rounds of coloring it because blue is actually my favorite color. Like, I just like it the most to look at. But also because I felt like if I colored it anything that was pink or purple, then I was being “girly” and it can’t be girly because I’m not girly. And it sounds like a really silly little thing. But when I colored it pink for the first time, I was like, “No, actually, it’s also a nice color to look at.”

It was like a big…it felt momentous in a way that I know nobody around me considered momentous. Um, and I think that that is, I think that that type of like, um…I think that it has to be authentic and come from yourself. Like, it’s not like somebody could, could be like, you know, “You didn’t, you didn’t get a chance to play, you didn’t get a childhood the way that you should have. Here is a doll, play with it.” Like, you know? Or “Here is a game, enjoy it.” Like, if it’s coming from somebody else’s… It might be well meaning, or if somebody’s like, “I recommend this to you because I liked it,” then that’s different. But I mean, like, somebody can’t tell you what thing it is that will feel authentic for you.

And the amount of different kinds of play that there are, that I was kind of alluding to at the very beginning of this, I think gives this a lot of realm that– a lot of options that might not be like the first thing that you think of when you think of like, “I want to play like I didn’t get a chance to in my childhood.”

You might think “I need to pretend stuff with dolls” or whatever, and like that might feel authentic to one person, and then to another person it might feel like “I am pretending stuff with dolls. This is nothing,” you know. Those would be really valid ways of experiencing that.

I mean, effectively, playing Dungeons & Dragons is pretending stuff with dolls, so that’s why I just do it with my friends. And also, there’s lots of dragons involved. But I’m pretty sure that little girls play with dolls with lots of terrible things happening to them, too.

D: Every fairy tale has a dragon or monster, doesn’t it?

K: Right? But then to another person, pretending might not be a thing that is very meaningful to them, but collecting something that they love might be something that is very meaningful to them. Or like locomotor play, like doing stuff that is movement with their body might be very meaningful to them. Or they might really love wordplay and social play with their friends. Or they might, um, there’s one that I’m blanking on the name of, it’s like ritual play or traditional play or something like that–traditional play sounds like it means something else–but, um, it means like, getting really into myths or your culture or interest in things like that. A lot of kids have a phase where they go through being really interested in ritual play.

Or just like– there’s like 16, so I can’t name them all off the top of my head. And if I did, I would take up the whole podcast. But I think that there’s a lot of different ways one person could be like, “What I love to do, what I do for me is that I go swim laps at the gym where I have a membership and that’s what I do when I get away and I have my own time, and I, you know, maybe I loved swimming as a kid or maybe I wasn’t allowed to swim as a kid or maybe I didn’t know how to swim as a kid or whatever it is.”

And then another person could be like, “I collect Pokemon cards and I love that. And that is meaningful to me. And I admired them as a kid, or I was told that Pokemon was demonic as a kid. Or I…” you know, whatever, it could, it could relate in that it was meaningful to you as a child, or it could relate in that it was deprived from you as a child, or it could relate in that you thought it was cool, but your family didn’t have the means or the resources to let you pursue it as a child, or like, whatever. Thrill seeking could be a form of it, like going to amusement parks or you know, wanting to do cool experiences or things like that.

And, um, yeah. Now I’m just kind of throwing out ideas.

M: Yeah, it sounds like you’re talking about either claiming or reclaiming maybe something that you couldn’t have, because of societal expectations. Like if you enjoyed the color pink, then society expected this of you. And then you found as an adult, “Oh, I can still enjoy the color pink in a way that is outside of societal expectations.” Or, I can move my body in this way because I wasn’t allowed to skip rope, whatever. I mean, that’s a stupid example, probably, but like something that maybe is outside of whatever the expectation was and claiming it or reclaiming it for yourself as an adult.

K: Yeah, I think there’s something really powerful in that, and I think that it can be hard for people to get in touch with, especially if they have no idea where to start.

So, I mean, you could legitimately just, like, Google, like, what are the 16 types of play, and then read some of them and see if any of them sounded cool or just, like, you know, walk through a toy store, or, or whatever. Or think about some time in your childhood when there was a thing that you did want but couldn’t do, or couldn’t partake in, or couldn’t have, or whatever it is.

Um, I don’t think it has to be something that costs money to try to, to, you know, to get in touch with yourself in this way. Creating stuff, that’s a big one for me. I think that art is almost its own little spinoff category of play, but also like, I don’t know, there’s lots of overlappiness. I do a lot of stuff with art too.

So that’s a big component of things that I do. But, um.

D: I appreciate that you did not bring up, like, a craft kind of art, though, as a necessary play, since some of us have a little trouble with that one. So I love that there’s all these other options to engage in it.

K: Yeah, yeah, I do a lot of stuff with process art instead of product art. The concept being, it’s how small children naturally do art, and then it also isn’t how older children naturally do art, which all makes sense and is developmentally appropriate. For a two year old and a three year old, well meaning adults will be like, “Oh, what’s your picture of?” and the answer is, they weren’t even thinking “I’m going to make a picture of something.” They were like, “I’m exploring what crayons do.”

And then, you know, as you get older, you’re just like, “I’m starting with a picture in my head. I’m translating it to paper. I’m evaluating the result as I go. Does this look like I wanted it to? No, it doesn’t. I will erase that part,” you know, and so like, it’s like, you’re doing all these developmental steps. And then that goes to more complicated crafts too, and not just drawing and writing.

But I think that–as someone who is mild to moderately artistically talented regardless–it has still been very meaningful to me to try to uh, re-enter a place of doing process art and not product art, where I do not start with the thing in my head even though I probably could. And instead am like, what happens if I pour paint on this thing? And then what happens if I put glitter on that? Oh, this has been fun. Okay, what about now if glue is involved? And like, I just see where it goes.

M: That’s kind of how I write. I wrote a whole novel, I think, with process writing instead of product writing. I was like, oh, here’s a sentence of a main character’s name. Let’s see where the story goes.

K: I think that it’s really, it gets you into a state of flow in a way that product stuff does not. Because I think you’re inherently living in anticipation of a future moment where your product will be done when you are doing product anything, and you are inherently a little more able to just live in the moment of what it is that your hands are doing when you are doing process things.

M: So process things is really being more embodied, then, because you’re more in the present moment when you can be in process rather than always looking to the product! Bam!

K: Absolutely.

M: There’s like our tagline for this episode.

D: Did anyone sign up for this to be a therapy session?

M: No, but you just got it.

D: I feel it. Thank you for all of that. It’s all very impactful actually.

M: Oh, I have one last unrelated question because I could probably ask you 104 more…

K: That’s fair!

M: …but it is past your bedtime, I think…

K: Do you ever have people back a second time? I can talk more times than just one.

M: Yes, for sure. Um, I want to talk to you– because we’re talking about play and kind of student-led play. One of the posts that I saw of yours recently that really stuck out to me talks about logical consequences and how we as grownups, um, when working with children or, let’s be honest with other just people, we think, oh, if you miss a deadline, here’s the logical consequence, which is blah, blah, blah. And you were like, well, actually what a logical consequence would be is not what you think it is. It’s not punitive. It would literally just be the logical, natural…

K: So, yeah, I think you’re blending…

M: Okay, you redefine it for me because I don’t know!

K: …Blending the words natural and logical, I think, which is a really, really common thing in parenting circles.

M: Fix this for me.

K: The natural consequence of anything is just literally what happens. Like, I poured my plate of dinner on the floor. Now my food is on the floor. That is the natural consequence of the behavior or the action that I did. It’s just what happens without anybody interfering. And a lot of parents will say natural consequences when what they mean is logical consequences, and they, and so they’re like, “The logical consequence of you pouring your food on the floor is that you have to clean the floor,” or whatever, like that type of thing.

And, I think that the post you’re referring to opened with, “I think we would all be fine if we let the word consequences slip from our vocabulary entirely…”

M: Yes!

K: …which is one step even further. Because I think that, um, I’ve read a lot of posts in parenting groups where they’re like, well, this is what natural means. And this is what logical means. And what we need to do is, you know, most of the time natural, but maybe sometimes logical when you can’t let the natural one happen. Like, you can’t be like, “The natural consequence of you playing in the road is a car smushes you,” because you can’t let that happen to your kids.

And so instead you have to do a logical consequence. Like, then, “The logical consequence of you playing in the road is you’re not allowed to play outside for 5 days” or whatever, like, whatever– they’re– and I’m saying that, um, I don’t think we need this framework entirely. And then people in the comments were still like, “So what kind of consequences should there be?” like, no! I’m like saying, let go of the framework entirely. I, and then I have, uh… maybe the fastest way that I can put it in an example is that, um…

I think that there could be two parents who both do the same actions from the outside, if someone was just watching them from the outside. And their mindset and what’s going on in their brain is the only thing that’s different. And I think that one of them, it just lends itself to better outcomes over time than the other. So I think that…

The other day we were trying to go to the farmer’s market. And we do this every week. And it’s about a two mile walk and the kids go in the wagon because we go over roads and stuff, and so they have to be in a wagon. And because of several things, we were late. We were like an hour and a half late. Cause some people slept in. And everybody was hungry and mad and the kids were fighting constantly in the wagon. And my husband was getting frustrated because he was also hungry and mad. And I was like, “How about we just stop?” Because the first thing we do is walk through a big field. And I was like, “I will stay with the kids in the field. We will play in the field. You go pick up food and the fruit we need and then walk back, and then we’ll all take it and we’ll go home.”

And I could have been thinking in my mind, “The consequence of you guys not behaving in the wagon is that you don’t get to go with Dad, and Dad’s gonna go by himself, and you’re gonna stay with me in the field, and we’re all gonna be mad about it in the field for 45 minutes until Dad gets back.”

And what was actually in my head was like, “Everybody is hungry. Everybody is tired. Nobody is doing well. This will be a positive experience for absolutely no one in the family. I would rather eat a slightly cold lunch because my husband has just walked it back from the market than eat a hot lunch right in the market from the food truck and everybody be furious at each other and have yelled at my kids,” and whatever, whatever. “The most helpful thing for all of us right now is that we stop and play where there are no expectations that my kids sit still, they can run around in a safe field with, you know, with fences on the sides,” and, um, and they ran around collecting feathers and squabbled with each other and collected more feathers and tried to climb a tree and picked flowers.

So I could have come at that–I–it would have just been my own framework, it would have literally only been my own framework in my head. I could have made the exact same decision: “We will stay in the field until you come back with lunch.” And I could have made it with two different mindsets. And the only thing that would be different is me. Like even my kids might have not even noticed that I had a different mindset.

But I do think that it leaks out like in the way that I’m treating them. In the way that I’m talking to them. In the view that I have on them running around the field. Because if I’m thinking, “The consequence of your actions is that we’re just going to stay here and you can’t go with Dad,” then if they go run off and look like they’re having fun collecting feathers five seconds later and I’m like, “You haven’t been suitably punished, and you don’t feel suitably bad for the consequences of your actions,” then I might feel like I need to start doing more things. Because what I’m thinking [in that scenario] is, “If I don’t do something to them, they will never learn.” And instead, I was thinking, “Everyone is hungry. We should just wait until we have food and we’re all more reasonable again,” and, and just like, and not worrying that 15 years down the road that means that my children won’t be able to sit next to each other without trying to bite each other’s heads off because they’re hungry or whatever. Like I don’t have to borrow that fear from the future.

M: Yeah, that–as a former teacher in the classroom, like it killed me even without knowing some of this, like, I wish I could go back and be a different teacher. But even without knowing this, it killed me that kids who were acting wild or couldn’t sit still, the immediate punishment was: “Okay. No recess for you.”

K: Yeah. It’s absurd.

M: It’s the absolute last thing that kid needs.

K: It’s the actual opposite, yeah.

M: Yes! And so I think that you’re right. I think if we, if we’re viewing play as reward all the time, instead of play as what is the most helpful in this situation to make meaning, to grow, to engage, I think reframing it like that…It helps us not always remove it then as a punishment.

K: Right. And the slippery slope that I see that it goes to is that it gets to where, like, love and positivity and respect become the things that you are withholding as part of your consequences. Because if I was standing there going, “Why are you guys having fun in this field? We’re all supposed to be feeling bad about how we couldn’t travel with Dad.” Then I would be, like, withholding warmth and affection from my kids because I would be worried that if they came up to me and showed me, “Look, Mom, I picked a bunch of flowers!” And I was like, “Oh, cool!” I’d be like, “Oh, wait, shoot, am I reinforcing that they should be angry in the wagon because if they don’t, then we will pick flowers and they will show them to me and I will seem happy and loving?”

Like, it, like, it slippery slopes so fast! And… And like, and so, that’s why I’m just like, that’s just not even a whole… I just let go of the whole framework. I’m not replacing it with a different thing, I’m saying I just let go of the whole framework.

D: I feel like we can move toward ourselves in that same way and find a lot of healing.

K: Oh, so much.

D: Because I might be my own worst punisher and inner critic, right?

K: Absolutely.

D: Like, it’s, if we could let go of that framework and move toward ourselves with unconditional grace, and acceptance, and love, and belonging, like…

K: It’s all, yeah, I’ll do the exact same thing to myself. I’m worse on myself than I am on my kids, because I was raised one way, and I’m trying to raise my kids another way. I’ll be like, you know, like, even for minor things, like… “I think I plan to do this thing in the evening that’s important.” And then I’ll, I’ll be like, “No, I’m way too tapped out to do this thing. But the consequences are I don’t get to do anything that would be relaxing or fun. I will just go to bed early or I will just, like, lay on the couch and feel bad about how I’m not doing the thing. Like, I sure can’t replace it with playing a video game or unwinding in some way because that would be rewarding myself for my terrible behavior.” And, like, none of that is helpful.

If I’m exhausted, maybe I need to play! Like, because I’m a human being! And I need to take care of myself.

M: Yeah, and just a reframing, like, I know I’ve said before, like, “Mommy needs a time out,” you know, and then I go to my room just to be alone. But what if instead of it feeling like a punishment, like, my withdrawing from them is a punishment to them, but also, like, I’m putting myself in time out because my temper is way up–what if it’s like, what is the most helpful for everyone in this situation, and it is being by myself for a little bit, but then it’s more about a way to re-engage and move toward myself, like you were saying, Deedra, rather than punishing myself for having a, “The consequence of my anger coming out is that I have to go be alone,” or “What is most helpful for me right now?”

D: Oh, that’s good stuff. You guys.

M: Wow. I love this conversation. I, there are so many, so many different ways we could go with this and more things to talk about. So 100% you’re going to come back and talk to us more.

K: Absolutely, absolutely.

M: All right, well we’ll post in the show notes like where they can come find you at your website and then even follow you on social media which is, I think, where a lot of the meat is that I see all the time. You’re one of the first posts to pop up in the mornings when I log in so I enjoy starting my day with your wisdom. And I force myself to read all 30 paragraphs. No, I’m just kidding.

K: I know. Oh my gosh. It is, uh, it is probably a lot to wake up to…

M: I love nuance. I love that you give examples. And you’re not just giving a theory about something; you’re giving practical things that people can implement and you’re speculating, “if this situation, then this, and I can’t speak to this, but maybe this.” And you’re so engaging in the comments when people ask you questions. So I just really appreciate the community that you’re leading there and the support you’re offering. Uh, it’s, it’s like one of the exceptions to the internet rule of don’t read the comments.

K: It’s a pretty fantastic place. It’s one of the exceptions to the internet rule of don’t read the comments. You can read the comments. You should read the comments on my page. They’re pretty good.

M: Well, thank you, Kelsie. We appreciate your time. Absolutely. Thank you guys for having me.

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