Most adults I know have some form of coping mechanism. Reading, exercise, going on walks, drinking, smoking, meditating, outdoor adventuring—coping mechanisms, a way for us to process and deal with our current situation. Why do we assume that children are any different? They have to find a way to process information, transitions and emotions, hopefully it is not number 5 or 6 on the list above.
My oldest son is nearly 9 and since the time he was about 4 he started moving around the room sort with no apparent sense of purpose or rhythm, he would intertwine his hands above his head and make odd noises, sort of like noises or sounds from a video game. I don’t remember exactly how old he was when we finally asked him about what he was doing. He said, “I am playing in my mind.” Okay- the kid has an imagination. As he grew older we noticed that Playing in his Mind was clearly away for him to have alone time without actually being alone. He has special tactile pieces like rocks or legos that he uses and not any old thing will do, he is specific. Whatever is going on in that mind, obviously calms him down. It is his way of processing. We asked him to explain it to us…”what is going on when you are playing in your mind?” He tried to explain it, “there are different characters and different levels.” It seems very complicated to me. I try to imagine what is going on but from an onlooker, it appears as if he is walking through spider webs while making video game sounds and his feet are constantly moving–he is almost oblivious, often kicking things and always in motion.
We were at the beach one day last week. This move has been tough on this 9 year old, he is a boy that likes routine and he misses his friends. This move is BIG for our family but clearly it is taking him longer to embrace our adventure. My wife Alix was collecting treasures, I was playing fetch and the youngest was playing monster trucks in the sand- I glanced over and noticed that Sparks was playing in his mind on the beach and as we were leaving the beach I noticed his tracks in the sand. To me, the marks in the sand represented playing in his mind. If we had the time, it would have been awesome to sit and have him try to retrace or explain his steps, maybe next time but for now I simply said, “look Sparks you made map of your mind.”