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No Words

Recently I caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen for over a decade. The last time I saw her, her little girl Ellie was nearly four and together they showed me their favourite game, which was called, “Words in the Bin”.

At any given moment in play, or day to day activity, one of them would call out, “Words in the Bin!” and from that point, all communication would have to take place non-verbally. Sounds were allowed, as long as no vocabulary was used; movement and gesture became the primary means of expression, and occasionally they resorted to drawing.

Apparently, they’d been playing this game since Ellie could talk, so they were quite proficient at it, and certain conventions had been established over the years. Still there was a lot of laughing and silly invention which was a delight to witness. The first person to accidentally utter an actual word was the loser and I watched them for about 20 minutes.

Jump to all those years later and as I’m asking my friend how Ellie is getting along and hearing what an interesting and interested girl she has grown into, I remember “Words in the Bin” and ask if they still play it.

My friend smiles to herself before telling me that the game has grown-up with Ellie, and that now, if either of them have something to share that they are unsure of or embarrassed or anxious about, they use “Words in the Bin” as a way of easing the struggle of communicating the difficult subject matter.

I find this fascinating. What started as a fun game was now providing them with the means to add a layer of emotional distance, making them feel less exposed and enabling them to have deeper and trickier conversations.

We can’t go back in time to gain the comfort in this process that Ellie and her mum have developed over a lifetime, but we can still take a lesson from them and try to find that one step of separation, maybe by writing down or drawing the difficult thing we, or our children, want to express. Or by going whole hog and jumping right into “Words in the Bin” - we might be surprised what comes out instead.

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