Wednesday, February 15, 2012

PlayWatch: Bringing Families Together

Today we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of our Families Together program and its expansion to Nina’s House, which will allow the Museum to serve more court-separated families, and those with greater challenges. Here are stories from two of the Families Together clinicians that show the impact of the program’s innovative therapeutic visitation, and the types of healing, relationship-building experiences that families will now have at Nina’s House as well as at the Museum.

A mom entering the Families Together program spoke about her childhood and never being able to play or “be a kid.” One of her goals was to learn to have fun with her children and help “make learning fun” for them.

In Shape Space, her 3-year-old daughter created a “ship” and showed it to us with a huge smile. Mom corrected her, saying the shape was really a pyramid. Her daughter stood her ground and declared, “No, I made a ship!” I could see that mom’s goal to have fun might be a challenge to accomplish.

During visits, I modeled playing and pointed out the ways her daughter responded, letting mom practice. Her daughter was engaging and had an active imagination, even though mom had not encouraged this in her. As mom became more comfortable at the Museum and with me, she learned about different ways to play, imagine, and most of all be silly. She learned a lot of this from her daughter.

Over time, mom reported that she was playing more at home and incorporating play into her daily routine. She even squirted her daughter with water and had a “water war” while washing dishes! Mom found that her relationship with her daughter improved and issues like managing tantrums were easier when she had a balance of fun and serious in each day.

In the end, the 3-year-old had made learning fun for mom!

Shannon Doherty, Families Together Visitation Specialist

In Families Together, we are privileged to witness firsthand just how powerful play can be.

A young mother and her 2 ½-year-old son have weekly visits at the Museum, the only time during the week that they see each other. They are rebuilding their relationship after months of separation.

At our first visit, the mother appears unsure of herself and the interactions between mother and son are tentative. The child calls his mother by her first name, acts shy and resists affection, not even wanting to hold hands. They play together for an hour, the mother following her son’s lead.

By visit six, the little boy sees his mother as a playmate, but not “Mommy.” They play throughout the Museum, smiling and laughing, no longer tentative.

By visit 14, the child runs to his mother, greeting her with a hug. He initiates play with her and says, “I love you” at the end of the visit.

By visit 18, their last with Families Together, the mother is almost always “Mommy.” She’s confident and clearly the parent, not just a playmate. Her son willingly holds her hand and asks to be held. They are mother and son again.

This is the power of play.

Amber Massed, Families Together Clinician

Illustrations by Valerie Haggerty-Silva, Museum graphic designer.

Click here for another powerful story about a family's growth and healing, shared by Families Together Clinician Amanda Grandchamp.

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