July 24, 2022

How to play with your child

Play is for adults too!

Play is important throughout the life course. It helps us to build connection, relax and find joy which has a ton of physical and emotional benefits for you and your developing child. Some of my favourite memories are those where I laughed and messed around with my mates; especially on circus tours where I was working closely with a group and sometimes going through a bit of challenge together (great for strengthening bonds!).

Mother and child playing

Our nervous systems need to be in a relaxed state in order for us to play. Some of us might be able to access our playful side in a relaxing environment such as a forest or after relaxing activity such as a massage. As someone prone to being a little bit edgy and anxious, I often need time to soften into being with a group of people: Camping trips and extended creative projects are often the most effective playgrounds for me! Icebreaker games can also be a good for helping us let go a bit, even if they feel a bit embarrassing at first! Alcohol can have a similar disinhibiting effect for some people, this is fine occasionally but having other strategies is better for your long term health.

A powerful bond

Gabor Mate talks about the fact that if we have a strong bond with our children, there is no need to discipline them, “How do we get our kids to follow us, so they learn from us? We don’t do it by attacking them. We do it by warm, nurturing relationship in which we set the example”; they automatically want to be on our side. Play is an essential part of cultivating a relationship with our children. I find starting simply by making eye contact, can help: A simple game can emerge from us being eye to eye which soon results in smiles and laughter.

Mother and daughter dancing

Play your way

If you find it difficult to play (many adults do, including me!) it can be helpful to know what your style is.  Here are some examples given by the Jai institute for parenting, touch/cuddles, stillness, silliness, fantasy/story making, exploration, teaching/learning, leadership, being the centre of attention. 

I found it a relief to know that I still get to be myself and play. I often prefer quiet ways of connecting such as reading stories and cuddling so it was great to realise that this is completely valid and valuable! Another reason we might find play a challenge is because of criticism we received earlier in life, for example we might have been told not to show off instead of being encouraged to refine our inner performer. A practice I find helpful in healing these wounds is to imagine myself as a little girl. I visualise myself putting my arms around younger me and telling her, “I’m here for you, I love you exactly as you are”. This can be surprisingly powerful and help us to find compassion for our children. 

If play is hard for you, be gentle with yourself, find moments everyday for small playful encounters, these are like nuggets of gold for you and your child. Celebrate and treasure them however small!

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