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Raphael-Leff, J. (2012). “Terrible Twos” and “Terrible Teens”: The Importance of Play. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 11(4):299-315.

(2012). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 11(4):299-315


“Terrible Twos” and “Terrible Teens”: The Importance of Play

Joan Raphael-Leff

In the process of individuation, toddlers and their adolescent parents share similar dynamics; that is, both are involved with anxiety-laden preoccupations about difference and separateness and about bodily changes, loss of control, and containing aggression. Both experience internal struggles between emotional vulnerability and a sense of invincibility; both make fierce self-assertive bids coupled with a powerful need for guidance. When synchronized, such teen-toddler similarities can create a bond of mutual excitement; when their intentions clash, however, a terrible battle of wills erupts, fuelled by furious frustration or intense despair.

It is suggested that play can provide an essential bridge between teen parent and toddler, enabling each to work through his/her anxieties and passionate reactions of love and hate. Joint play increases reciprocal understanding. However, a teen deprived of play in childhood, or one who resents her/his own playtime being curtailed by parenthood, may become intrusive or controlling, projecting disowned aspects of her/his self into their mutual play. The parent thus breaks the play frame, creating confusion in the child between pretence and reality.

By providing a safe space to explore conflictual feelings through joint play, thoughtful practitioners can foster better emotional awareness and mentalization in troubled young parents and their toddlers.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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