Play is so important to all of us. We are never happier than when we're off the clock and having a laugh, browsing the internet, watching some rubbish telly, or best of all joshing with friends. The cut and thrust of the gabbling is not just about laughter, it's about strengthening important bonds, even the slightly competitive edge to the yak is good for camaraderie.
This is ten times more true for children. And twenty times truer for fostered children.
I went to a fantastic Blue Sky training session recently, on Play.
The instructor made us play games, and the thing I noticed was how important it got for me not to screw up when it was my turn to pass the balloon from between my knees to the carer on my left. Oh yes, everyone was laughing, and I enjoyed my moment in the spotlight when the room was looking at my efforts, but I even got a few nerves as my turn got close. At the end of the day we all bustled off smiling. But I'd been reminded how important "play" is when you're little.
In fact, there's no such thing as "play". It's learning for life. Learning self-esteem, social skills, dealing with ups and downs, finding out about other people.
I used to feel a bit unusual in that I know I learned far more in the playground than the classroom. Now I'm sure it's true for almost everyone.
With your own children it's a straightforward business, playing with them. Rough and tumble games, when they're small, are fantastic. The tactile element is a bonding thing, letting them experiment with their strength and agility is great for self-esteem, especially if you let them win the right amount of times. There's a lot of laughter and excitement. Later on this develops into a quest for triumphs such as cycling without stabilisers, swimming, and the other sports. You may care to know I can strike a football, toe down, with both feet. I understand several millionaires in the Premier League still can't do that yet, har har.
It's not quite so straightforward when you foster. You have to abide by very sensible guidelines concerning physical contact with other people's children, quite rightly. It's not unlike the things teachers are trained in, except teachers don't get challenged to a play-wrestle very often.
Each time any type of contact-play comes up you do a quick check; what's the age-appropriateness of the game? What kind of contact will be involved? Is it danger-free?
Obviously, a child will get to be too old or big for rough and tumble, but you can always back out anytime saying "You're a bit too old/grown-up/big/heavy/strong/quick for me these days". Or "Not with my back/shoulder/wrist/knee".
You try hard not to betray to the child that you are avoiding any activity that could, in a bad old world, end up as being misinterpreted as inappropriate. And this is one reason why we keep our written records.
In the meantime if everything is right, I stick to games we played and perfected with our children that are also safe. Running away and being chased is great, so long as the "tag" is just a tap on the back.
The all time favourite is "Rhino Derby". You go down on all fours, as does your opponent. You put your heads down so your upper backs are pressing against each other. And push. You keep your head well out of the way. There's an element of rough and tumble, but it's safe, as long as you concentrate and stay alert to any dangers. It's got (safe) contact, competitiveness, and if you play "Best of three" you are out and defeated 2-1 with no danger of bruises, pulled muscles or a build up of anxiety.
Unlike the rough and tumble of adulthood if you're a foster carer, which usually sees us posting a lower score than we wanted, with a well bruised ego.
And as for freedom from anxiety, if that's what you're after, stick to gardening.
The Secret Foster Carer