Being playful with our children and injecting humour and good old silliness into our days with them is a really great way to ‘lighten’ our days. Young children (as my experience is only with young children) love to play, and are full of beautiful wonder and enthusiasm. And us parents often have a lot on: perhaps work to be done, spaces to be cleaned, things that we need to do for our children (feed them, bathe them, dress them and change their nappies if little, move the routines of the day along), food we need to make to nourish our families, etc. All very ‘serious’ stuff; and sometimes, seemingly monotonous (I know it often takes an intended effort, and a filter coffee [!] for me to tap into my enthusiasm)… But what if we injected a little humour and a little fun and joined them in their world? What if we could focus on being playful and connecting with our precious beings as we move them through the day and the things we need to do? And what if that could actually be helpful in filing their connection cup, so that when we do need to do stuff, they are more likely to play alone, satisfied in their connection with us, so that we can try to get a few things done (laundry and cooking, anyone?)
This post is a great reminder for me, as whilst I try to inject play and playfulness into our home with our little children, and our routines, I feel like more in this area would help me lighten my days further. What if brushing teeth became a song, and you could hop or walk backwards to the toilet when you encouraged your child to use the potty? Those tasks, then, neither feel dull, or like weighty or like ‘to-dos’, and more importantly, have less chance of becoming tension points between us and our children. This approach benefits us as the parents; I enjoy my role a lot more with an injection of play which can snowball into enjoyment and joy, alhamdulillah. Such playfulness benefits our child, too: instructions and things to do such as getting dressed and getting ready to nap become easier/like more exciting things when our children can hop to the potty or we can race in trying to tidy up their room, for example. I think they also work well for our parent child bond: I feel connected to my son as we laugh, or play a game of eye spy or hide and seek in our home, or as we giggle at something silly at bedtime. This playfulness, in such instances, has created a lovely atmosphere in our home . Conversely, when I just try to get the job done and want to get my child into bed already (!) to nap, it seems like neither of us enjoy it or connect, really (and this does happen more often than I’d like, at times). I’m disengaged, and that doesn’t work so well. The things to do do start to feel weighty. But when I embrace the moment, engage in it, and add a dose of play, I’m not just looking to complete tasks. I’m looking to really be there, to fully engage, to accept the moment as it is and more so, to enjoy and connect with my child. When I take this approach, I feel like I’m living and enjoying my life, alhamdulillah. As opposed to trying to get the moment over and done with, which feels…heavy.
Using Play To Move Through Routines
Using play to move through routines – such as a morning, dinnertime, and bedtime routines – also really helps us. I saw a practical example of this on ahaparenting.com. The post I read on there was on a different topic but it exemplified an interaction where the parent was asking a child (who was playing) to have a bath. So they ask: ‘do you want to leap the two engines off the track and race all the way to the bathroom? Here, I’ll take this one and you take that one; let’s zoom!’. As I read it, I thought that this was a great example of using play to move through the daily routine, from one activity to another; in this case, from playtime to bath time. I noticed that I do this kind of thing with my son, too. He watches Barney, and there’s this segment where there are three children standing outside, and they move in different ways from one place to another; they say things like ‘green grass and clover, let Stephen hop over’ and ‘green grass and clover, let Barney dance over’ etc. The person whose name is mentioned then has to move to another spot in the way that is described (hop/dance/skip). I remember nappy changing being a real challenge with my toddler at times – before he was potty trained. It would be like ‘Smiley. Nappy change please!’ from me as I called him over, accompanied at times with a desire (and perhaps an undertone!) of just wanting to get the nappy changed and that task done, already! He, being my confident son, would drag out a ‘noooo’ or a ‘no, nappy change!’. Then our exchange and my trying to convince him to come over, coupled occasionally with mild frustration setting in internally for me as the interaction continued, would at times result in the exchange not being our finest interaction experience. One day, I thought of the Barney episode and said something along the lines of ‘hey honey, shall we change your nappy? C’mon, green grass and clover, let Smiley hop over!’. This playfulness, along with other things (like being mindful to connect before asking him for something, and/or giving him time to finish what he’s doing before I make a request) changed his reaction. He would hop over or say something like ‘ermm, I will jump over!’. I would say something like ‘you wanna jump over? Okay!’ and he would. Potential unpleasant interaction and power struggle averted, alhamdulillah, and enjoyment-meter cranked up.
Play And Redirecting Our Children
Playfulness also really works for me in redirecting my child. Many times, children act in ways that can feel really triggering (biting, hitting a sibling!) and can be a big test for us. But their behaviour is very often developmentally appropriate. Yep. Completely developmentally appropriate. My son will often just jump on my back from behind, without prior warning, though I have asked him many times to please ask me beforehand, so I know what’s coming. It can be a test for me as I may be changing his brother’s nappy and all I will feel is all his body weight suddenly my back, and an elbow digging into the nape of my neck or shoulder (and hurting!). At times, I have let out a ‘Smiley!’ in an annoyed tone. What works better though is when I connect first, through play, by pausing, perhaps wrapping my arms backwards around him and squealing something like “are you climbing on me?!” playfully and moving about. This ensues smiles, laughter, connection or all three, then playing for a few seconds and then asking empathically “is it fun to climb?” which will bring up a response of “yes” or some comment about play. And then I may kiss or hug him whilst reminding him “do you mind asking me first please, sweetie?” and then also explain why I’m making this request. In this particular example, it’s: “so that I don’t get hurt”. Often though, if I’ve squealed “are you climbing on me?!” or “You, Mister?!”, he will laugh or smile and remember “can I climb on you?”. I think we personally find it easier to accept a point of correction from those who understand where we are coming from (even if they don’t agree). It’s far more palatable to accept redirections from those that empathise with us. Play with our children can help us to establish that ‘we-ness’: that connection before we move onto redirection. (Dr. Dan Siegel talks more about connecting before redirecting in his book ‘No Drama Discipline’ which he has co-authored with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson).
Saying Yes To Play Invitations
It works well for me to accept play invitations from my child. I struggle with it, because as much as I may (sometimes) want to let go and play with him, I also have to try to balance that with getting things done around our home and also wanting to read or do things that replenish me. But it helps when I do just let go and sometimes say yes to the invitation. When I do play, and try to take it one step at a time, and join him in doing a puzzle for example, we put pieces together, and as the minutes tick, we begin to talk whilst doing the puzzle, and we begin to feel…together; connected. Affection often flows in these moments and it is lovely (he often says no to kisses at other times, which is fine by me). Then I think, this play stuff, it’s his love language almost, his world. Smiley loves for us to play with him. And when I get into it, and mentally halt the to do-list or stop observing the mess and when to do it, and choose to just be with my son, it can be a lovely and welcome diversion for me, too. I come out replenished. Sometimes, it doesn’t have this replenishing or internally lovely effect on me, but I’m glad whenever I do play with him as I know he likes it, and compliance is often a welcome by-product from connection time and play. I also like it as I feel like I invested in my relationship with my child for a while, and I’m often grateful that I did take that time.
Roughhousing, rough-and-tumble kind of play, such as pillow fights, wrestling etc, is said to build emotional intelligence in children by allowing them to process their emotions. Games that get kids moving and laughing are also good for kids. According to Dr. Laura Markham of AhaParenting.com:
“All day, every day, children have to manage complicated feelings: Fear (What if there IS something under the bed?), Jealousy (Maybe you do love their sibling more!), Humiliation (The teacher acted like he should already know that, and all the kids laughed!), Panic (What if she doesn’t make it to the bathroom on time?), Anger (It was my turn!), Disappointment (Doesn’t anyone care what I want?!)…. The normal challenges of every day for a growing child of any age stimulate all kinds of feelings. Children release these emotions through play. Laughter, specifically, transforms our body chemistry by reducing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones [like oxytocin]”
“…because when we play physical games with children, they giggle and sweat and scream — and they release the same pent-up stress hormones that they’d otherwise have to tantrum to discharge. ”
I know for me that if my child is a bit whiny, and the cause isn’t hunger or tiredness, trying to play a quick chasing game around the house can turn around the moment, and sometimes eradicate the whines. We feel connected, he has discharged whatever he’s struggling to navigate and then we get on with our day. Sometimes, he has already passed the point of no return and a tantrum is inevitable. But a fun, movement and laughter-ensuing game helps us both with connection and cranking up the feel good factor.
We go out to play a lot more now, the boys and I, but before we did, or on the days that we don’t, it has helped when I’ve sometimes looked up a gross motor activity for us. Wikipedia gives the following definition for gross motor skills: “Gross motor skills are involved in movement and coordination of the arms, legs, and other large body parts and movements. They participate in actions such as running, crawling, swimming, etc.” I personally didn’t look up these activities to develop particular skills in my children but rather because that description tends to bring up movement involved games, which is what I was after: to get Smiley and I moving, and potentially laughing and therefore feeling better, and more emotionally centred. Games such as hopscotch are an example. We’ve played a game that we’ve named ‘cushion track’ in our house (we found the game idea on Hands on As We Grow) whereby we put cushions and pillows on the floor and hop all over them. We put our own twist to the original game idea as we had to avoid the bits of floor between the pillows as we jumped, etc.
So, how can we inject playfulness and play into our days with our children? (Tips are based on my experience with young children; perhaps some can be used/tweaked with older kids, too)
Actionable Steps in Implementing The Tip:
1) Use play and playfulness to move through the routines of the day. This can mean, for example, that when you’re inviting to nappy changing or calling to breakfast, you use your imagination and make it playful. An example would be “do you want to run to bed, or walk backwards, or skip?” It might be that you announce in a high pitched or singing voice that dinner is ready, and invite sitting at the table in the same funny voice (being light will be fun us too). You could ask them how they want to go to the bathroom: run, hop or walk sideways, and then do it together.
2) Use play for ritual activities of the day that may bring up tension, or resistance on the part of your child. In my context, it is brushing teeth, nappy changing, getting dressed etc. So for brushing teeth, I ask my son if we should do ABCs or 123s as we brush. And I usually sing whatever he chooses, in an animated voice while I do the business of brushing. These days, he usually responds by saying ‘Arabic alphabet’ or ‘shapes!’. So I can be found in the bathroom at times exaggeratedly saying the Arabic alphabet or random shape names. Good fun, alhamdulillah! And the other day, Smiley wanted me to speak really fast at naptime. Then he wanted me to read his bedtime story book at a super fast pace. I loved it and he cracked up. We shared a laugh and a kiss and felt connected. Maybe you can skip to put shoes on before you leave the house, or something like that?
3) Doing gross motor activities helps. It helps to incorporate rough housing and movements into our day if possible; these kinds of activities are particularly helpful when the kids happen to be indoors all day/when you are not going out. Here are two links with a list of fun activity ideas from Hands On As We Grow:
http://handsonaswegrow.com/get-the-kids-moving-activities/ – On this list, ‘Silly Races’ seems like a fun and easy one to do.
With regards to these, don’t forget that you can vary them; you don’t have to have all the stuff that is listed to make an activity work in a different way. So for the Hop, Skip and Jump activity, it listed that you should place paper plates on the floor, and Hop, Skip and Jump off them. However, we didn’t have paper plates, nor did we want to use them; so we drew circles with chalk on our vinyl kitchen floor and wiped them off when we were done.
Our very own movement involving games that we play at home are Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses, What’s The Time Mr. Wolf, Hide and Seek, Ben Aqui (which means ‘come here!’ in Spanish): a game my husband made up and played with my son a lot where we would chase him all around the house, saying ‘ben aqui’.
4) Imaginative Playfulness – Things like making up a rhyme together work well when we are doing routine things around the house (we have a song we have made up with funny made up sounds we sing) . My son also once made up a make-believe game whereby he said that characters from a show he used to watch were coming to visit our home; I joined in: we said some were waiting at the local station; he said something like that another was next door at the neighbours. We were looking outside the window at the sky for the bird character; we were talking about when they arrived and what room in our house they were in; out tone was very animated and conversational and he was excited. Making up stories is another one that works well for us (we picked this one up from The Peaceful Papa’s Facebook page). So if my son whines or is reluctant to move on to the next part of our routine, or we are just sat on the sofa, I will make up a story occasionally, in a dramatic voice about the adventures of two princes and their Mummy and Daddy (Smiley asked for one the other day). This really changed his mood one day when he was either whiny or resistant (I can’t remember which it was). He becomes absorbed with the story.
5) If our young child begins to whine (and it isn’t caused by something like hunger or tiredness), we can try using movement involved play to help in dialling it back, recharging our child, and establishing a connection. This is a good reminder for me, as I’ve forgotten to do it lately, but a while back, I used to do this a lot. If my son began to whine and it was ongoing, I’d sometimes sit on the floor, put something padded like a cushion or a changing mat behind us, and ask him if we should ‘play fall’ together. He knew what was coming, would usually oblige and I’d grab him when he ran towards me and we’d fall backwards on our prepared padded/cushiony item. As and after we’d fall, we’d laugh a lot, and often it would be a quick little recharge for us both.