When to turn, turn, turn? Let them tell you

I’m not prone to quoting biblical phrases too often, so I shall take these from a song instead:

To everything

(Turn, turn, turn)

There is a season

(Turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose

Under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

Seeger, P (1959)

There is something very settling and yet unsettling about these words. They suggest perhaps a sense of order and of sequence, something which can ground us and orient us. This is surely a comfort when we try to navigate the seeming unpredictability and randomness of life. Yet, it is not always clear when the time is, especially when you live in a place with less defined seasons; is it a time to build up or to break down? Is casting away such a good idea? In many ways, perhaps, these are not things for us to know – as the song suggests. But there is, it seems, a stronger pull to provide answers in our currently abnormal world. It is something we may do well to caution against.

You don’t have to go far at the moment to find someone with an answer to life’s questions. Despite a growing tendency to denigrate established thinking, everyone seems to be an expert (even me for some reason). Consultants abound, and people seek to ‘influence’ others on all aspects of life. News can sound more like opinion than fact and in an age where you can study Klingon at university, the act of building knowledge may seem increasingly trivial. 

However, for your child, it is a developmental process which should be allowed to take its course – and not just at school. Curiosity is at its core, and never more clearly expressed than in play. I spend much of my time – somewhat to the bemusement of many parents – following children’s play. They seem to take it all quite seriously, which draws me in. To paraphrase Winnicott, a paediatrician and psycho-analyst of deceptive simplicity; it is only in playing that a child is able to be creative, and ‘…it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.’ (Winnicott, 1971, P.54) This experience is an exploration and one which is not known from the outset, even by the most organised of children. Momentum develops and takes it somewhere. This unpredictability has value and is the space for development. It is something to allow, to go along with, to follow and discover – if you try and construct or control it, it loses that value. It’s a bit like a conversation. You have to listen to do it properly.

So when your child asks you to play, get stuck in. And the next time they ask whether it’s a time to lose or a time to keep, perhaps consider seeing what they think before saying more. They may well surprise you. 

Winnicott, D. (1971) Playing and Reality. London, Routledge.

McGuinn, R. The Byrds. (1965) Seeger, P (1959) ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ Los Angeles, Columbia Records.  

(Adapted from; King James Version. (1611) The Holy Bible; Ecclesiastes (3:1-8))

Written by:
Robert Leveson, 
Psychotherapist & Counsellor, 
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)

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