Okay, let's be honest. How many of you just groaned at this title?
Even playing with a high-risk child can become a battleground, but if you are parenting a child who came to you with deficits in sensory processing, brain development, and attachment, play must become a high priority.
The language of childhood is play. The brain grows and develops through play. Deep connection happens through play. We can disarm fear in a child from a hard place through play, which helps with neurochemical imbalances in the brain.
It's not always easy in today's culture to make time to play with our children. I get it. You rush home from work, feed the kids a snack, get the homework going, pop dinner in the microwave, try to have a moment of quality time together as a family, and before you know it it's time to start the bedtime routine. Where in the world is there time to just go play?
Well, the truth is we all make time for what is important to us. And play is something we must choose to make time for if we are committed to helping our kids heal. So today, let's talk about how you can be intentional about fitting it into your busy schedules.
And if you are working on getting more sensory activities into your busy day, combining this with play is going to give you double benefit. So I'm challenging you to look at your daily routine and include at least 20 minutes of play every two hours. I think you'll be amazed at the improvements you'll see in your child's ability to regulate emotions and feel safe and connected to you.
How can you fit some play in before sending your child to school? We made it a routine to have our son jump on the trampoline every day before school. We had one in the backyard and a small jogging trampoline for bad weather days. Remember, you don't send the child out to jump on the trampoline, you jump with them. If you have physical limitations, you at least go and count or clap and cheer for them - not watch from the kitchen window while you throw a few dishes in the dishwasher.... How about instead of sending them to brush their teeth, you try animal walks down the hall, piggy back rides, or wheel barrow races on the way to the bathroom?
After school, spend some time playing at the park, riding bikes together, shooting a few baskets, building forts, or dancing to some favorite tunes before the homework routine. I've found that children can focus much better on schoolwork when they have had some sensory input and a protein snack. If homework has become excessive, be sure to talk to your child's teacher about the relationship work you are committed to in your family due to your child's early history of harm. It's okay to say, "We will spend ___ number of minutes on homework per day so that we have time to help our child heal which is our top priority."
Cooking can be a fun time of playful engagement. Allow your child to make some choices about meal planning and try new recipes together. Even very small children can help with pouring, stirring, and measuring. I know it takes longer with their help, but it keeps them in close proximity to you and can provide many opportunities for learning and connection as well as tactile input for sensory processing.
As the day winds down, perhaps have a family game night after dinner with cards, dominoes, or board games. Most of our kids are easily glued to the video games or computer screens, but that doesn't give us the connection and sensory input that our children must have to develop. Limit these types of screen play and be sure you are providing lots of novelty and choices with games, toys, and activities that develop relational and cognitive skills.
Speaking of screens, parents are also easily glued to them and they can interfere greatly with relationship. Be sure you are saving Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and emails for after the kids are in bed. It's hard to make nurturing eye contact and give voice to our kids if our attention is constantly diverted to our Smartphone. I know, I know.... You were just checking the Parenting with Connection site to learn how to be more connected, right?
Play takes being intentional and it takes being emotionally present. I'm amazed at the number of parents who tell me they don't really know how to play - just good old, child-directed, creative, spontaneous, goofy play. It doesn't come naturally for them. It wasn't how they were raised because their moms or dads were usually too busy with jobs, chores, and daily responsibilities. You aren't alone, but play can be learned and is vital to helping our children heal.
Practice letting go of that "to do" list and staying connected. For those of us who come from a more dismissive adult attachment style, it is difficult at times to not let the task come before the relationship. Be mindful of this and ask yourself, "What is more important - my relationship with my child or accomplishing this task?" It takes working on your belief system and being willing to change which is a challenge. You may have to use more paper plates or hire someone to do some of the weekly chores, but playing with your kids is an investment I don't think you will regret.
Even today, in Dane's young adult years, play and emotional connection are necessary life forces for us. It may look more like listening to some fun music together and making S'mores around our backyard fire pit, but it is still playful. It means laughter, connection, and you are safe with us. Being safe with us makes it possible for him to go out and explore the world with others.
What ideas can you share for making play a part of every day?
P.S. Play is vital for your brain too!