How a 6-Year-Old Showed Me Eastertide
Kayceon is six years old. His Grandmother brings him to see me so that we can work on his attitude. Kayceon can be defiant. He’s prone to outbursts. She says he can be disrespectful at home and disruptive at school. In previous sessions, Kayceon has been anxious and unsettled. He’s presented depressive tendencies. Keeping his attention has been a challenge.
“You ready, Kayceon?” I call out into the waiting room.
“Yeah, I’m ready. Can we play with the blocks?” He asks me.
“Yeah, man, we’re going to play.”
His grandma sits with her hands crossed over her purse. I usually find her in the same still quiet dignity when I come out as I do when I take Kayceon back.
I close the door to the playroom behind me, and Kayceon goes straight for the blocks.
It’s been a long winter for Kayceon. He lives with his grandmother but has visitation with his mother one night a week. Even that’s too much. His mother is on and off of meth. She lives with a man who beats Kayceon. Since he was 3, when he was first abused, Kayceon’s been told he’s not wanted. He’s been ignored and left alone. He’s been made to be afraid.
Kayceon acts differently when he comes home from his mother’s. He resets to an antagonistic version of himself, and it takes days for him to get back to a peaceful place with his grandparents, with himself.
Kayceon is a classic example of childhood trauma manifesting itself in a cluster of symptoms. Negative cognition, altered moods, relationally avoidant, Kayceon’s symptomology screams a little boy trapped in a hurt and fear he can’t articulate or categorize. Because children don’t know how to delineate between what’s about them and what’s about their caretakers, and because they’re in subservient positions in relationship with those caretakers, they take everything on themselves, even the abuse.
Today, Kayceon feels different. He’s 6, mind you, and has the energy to show for it, but something seems different today, more serene.
“What do you want to build?”
“I’m going to make a house,” he says. “It’s going to be big.”
“Alright, let’s see it.”
The blocks we like to play with connect magnetically. It takes attachment to make something.
New therapists often get play therapy wrong. They think they need to lead the child to a verbal breakthrough. But healing begins pre-verbally. We just play. As the child creates, he learns agency, he feels what it’s like to give shape to things, to his pained life. We share plenty of words, but it’s the play that matters most. The first thing lost with innocence is the imagination. We play to spark the imagination so that the fires of innocence might blaze.
In another container beside the magnetic tiles are these connectable bendable tubes. They’re pliable, easy to animate.
“Okay, well, while you do that, I’m going to make some people to live in your house, that okay?” I ask, sitting sprawled on the floor amidst this scattered material of the imagination. My first tubed figure has long blue legs and bent yellow arms.
“Yeah, people gotta have a place to live.”
“They do, don’t they?” Kayceon says.
When his grandmother brought him today, she told me he’s been acting better. The tantrums and the backtalk have improved since the court reduced visitation with his mother down to a few hours a week. A sad but necessary concession.
“Spring break’s coming up, right? What are you doing to do?” I ask.
“I don’t know, play. Probably play outside.”
“Church?” I ask.
“Yeah, church and Easter’s coming up. We always go to church on Easter.”
“Yep, me too. What else?”
“My grandpa makes me do chores.”
“Oh yeah? Not fun are they?”
“No. I don’t like chores.”
“I don’t either, tell you the truth. But it’s good to help grandma, right?”
“Yeah, it’s good.”
He’s got the house two stories high now, a magnetic myriad of colored tiles, a makeshift edifice of attachment and intention.
“Here’s another person to live in the house.” This one has a red torso, with a blue rectangular face.
“Check him out, Kayceon. Not bad, right!?”
“Where can he go?” I ask.
“Oh yeah! He can stay here.”
Half an hour has passed. We’re not saying much. We’re busy making.
“Tell me about your friends at school, Kayceon.”
“I don’t have any friends.” He never looks up. He’s onto the third story now.
“You don’t have friends? I can’t believe that. You’re great. Smart, funny. You’re probably a great friend.”
“I know but I don’t have any.”
“Kayceon, come on man, you mean to tell me you don’t have anyone you call a friend, not a best friend, no one like that?”
“Oh, yeah, I got a best friend!”
“Okay, I thought so. Who’s your best friend?” I’ve finished my third tube person. Kayceon’s house is getting full.
“You, silly! You’re my best friend.”
He doesn’t stop giving shape to this house of his. Three story, makeshift, and in the hands of reuniting innocence.
It’s an important boundary to keep your composure in front of clients otherwise transference, countertransference, and projections and all these ways of being human can spill out onto the session. A stiff upper lip, if you can manage it. I can’t. My face tightens and I turn my head. I can’t see past the welling to add another pair of arms.
It was raining when I came into the office. Mid 50s, grey, windy. But the sun has come out, and across the parking lot blooms a Redbud I haven’t noticed until now. Myriad slants and shades of light through its flowers and around the greening boughs. For a moment it’s as if my legs and arms and heart and mind are fashioned and placed in the ordered material of the Imagination that makes all things new.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used here with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Corey is a poet, writer, speaker, and educator. He holds Master’s Degrees in Religion, English, and Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Literature. He is the author of C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, and the forthcoming The Serve the Work: Stray Thoughts on Christ and Creativity. Corey has written articles and given talks on subjects ranging from C. S. Lewis, the theology of creativity, the neurology of the imagination, and the power of story to heal life’s wounds.