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Playing with kids can be fun, creative, imaginative...
And sometimes- really boring.
All parents want to see their children happy and playful- but it’s not always easy for adults to join in.
One of the biggest factors in childhood success is their caregiver’s engagement. So if you want some activities that will engage you both- you’re in the right place.
Every week, here on the blog, you’ll a new list of Play Everyday: a therapy-tested game, art activity or even mindfulness method for each day of the week. Weekends you’re off the hook- I’m more interested in the ways you engage with your kid after work and school end, when it’s all too easy to turn on the tv and tune out.
To get started, here are a few tips:
Tip #1: If you’d like to make a regular practice out of this list, prepare your kid by telling them. Let them know you want to spend a little more time with them every day and then be consistent with the time of day you begin.
Tip #2: Pick activities that are right for your kid and match your energy level. Anything else would be a set up for failure. Have some ‘low key’ activities ready in case you’re too wiped to get out the art supplies tonight.
All of these activities are about having fun and some can be used therapeutically during a difficult moment. So…
Tip #3: It’s important to remain non-judgmental- especially if your child isn’t interested in participating, or if they do it don’t quite get it “right”. If your child is disinterested, try not to feel too rejected or frustrated. Accept their ‘no’ and if possible reflect their disinterest with neutrality and openness: “Ok you’re not so into this. I’d really like to do something fun with you today- how about (fill in the blank with a broad alternative category- ie art, go outside, play a game)?”
It’s surprising to many parents how vulnerable this kind of open statement can be. But even if your kids further reject your entreaties, you’ve just modeled open communication, vulnerability and self-acceptance of your emotional needs. Well worth your time.
Tip #4: Try it yourself first. Even if you just read through the activity ahead of time- your kids will be much more engaged if you’ve already done the activity. When you come into this with confidence and can tailor it to your own child’s needs, they notice.
Tip #5: keep it simple. If it’s stressing you out to go and buy paints or whatever is being asked of you- stop.
A quick note about using these activities when a kid is losing their shit:
When a kid is tantrumming or having emotional overwhelm the first step is ALWAYS CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF FIRST. It only takes a couple seconds: Are you about to explode? Are you feeling humiliated, ashamed? Are you so fed up and even angry at yourself? Are you this close to leaving this kid in the parking lot and never coming back?? Kids can be… triggering. And your need to feel contained is A NEED. Not an ideal state or preference: you not only deserve but NEED containment. So before reacting, whenever possible: try to contain yourself first. And if you’re not perfect- well, welcome to the club. See my list of parent self-care activities to get started on your containment tool kit. Remember: have fun!
Like what you see but you’re not sure if it’s a perfect fit? Email me to get a free customized playlist for your kids.
The Play Every Day List: Oct. 7th, 2019
1. Progressive Relaxation
Start practicing this daily so that the next time your child is overwhelmed or angry you can ask them to walk through this with you. *
Materials Needed: None. Just a quiet room.
Introduce the activity along appropriate developmental lines (see below). If your child is open, you may lead according to these steps:
Try it a couple times- make sure they progressively get tighter, not all at once.
Older kids can be informed really directly about the purpose and benefits of this. In fact many of them might be interested to know about this ‘brain hack’. But little ones might need a story. Think about how your child might conceptualize their anger? One little boy I know called it “lightning inside me”. Another might relate to a reference to Star Wars. Modeling this one can be really helpful so give it a try first!
Progressive relaxation was invented in the 1930’s by Edmund Jacobson and has been proven to regulate the ANS (autonomic nervous system) which is associated with fight-flight-freeze responses and the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Here’s some more scripts if your child enjoys this technique: https://depts.washington.edu/hcsats/PDF/TF-%20CBT/pages/4%20Emotion%20Regulation%20Skills/Client%20Handouts/Relaxation/Relaxation%20Script%20for%20Younger%20Children.pdf
2. Scribble Chase: A great warm up activity to garner engagement and collaborative energy from your kid.
A piece of paper
2 different colored pens/markers
Adult begins by explaining that the child’s only goal is to keep their pen against the paper without lifting off, following your own pen’s line. Move slowly up and down, then side to side a times. Circles and figure eights can follow. Then- switch roles! Notice if your child wants to go super fast as the leader- this is common. Just lightly reflect that they’re having fun going faster than you.
After a minute of your child leading, you can stop and ask if they can find any pictures or images in the scribble. Regard the scribble with them. When they find something, encourage them to show you by coloring it in or making the images stand out. You can then ask them to tell you a story about the image.
A deceptively simple game- but I find it can often reveal all sorts of relational and developmental pieces. This activity is about waking up a kid’s engagement. It’s relational and somatic- which means it’s getting your kid plugged in on a number of levels including kinesthetic, cognitive, creative and relational.
3. Silly Answer Game: Best with at least three people but can be done with just two.
Begin by introducing the following steps:
“What is your favorite food?”
“Who is Pikachu?”
This silly little game encourages attachment and connection. Sometimes it’s also a great place for authentic expression. Kids and adults alike can share unnamable negative or ambivalent feelings without ever uttering a word. And then- feel supported through mirroring and validation from the people around them.
4. Hand Portrait: can be done after a disappointing experience or just a long day.
any decorations and glue you may have
Trace both hands on one piece of paper, with some portion of the hands overlapping. You can do this for your child, or perhaps they can show you how well they can do it for themselves.
The inside left hand represents what was hoped for. Your child can write words but it’s often better to just color and decorate. If you have a young child, you can ask them to color things that remind them of feeling happy and hopeful.
Within the right hand: what was disappointing or difficult.
The overlap: where you got what you needed. Even if it means it eventually ended: it’s important that your child recognize that the disappointing thing is over and that they’re safe now.
When they’ve completed the activity you can go over it with them, offering empathy and a lot of emphasis on the middle section.
A lot has been written in the art therapy community about containment activities. If your child is feeling frustrated or disappointed about something, they may need help holding, containing or conceptualizing their experience. It can be helpful for them to use their executive functioning skills to manage difficult feelings; and then find a silver lining without dismissing their authentic experience. This activity also engages bi-neural pathways in the brain, promoting regulation and development out of that rigid black-and-white thinking that so many kids have.
5. Scavenger Hunt & Art Project: best done outside in a space with trees and rocks, yet also far away from any poison ivy or oak :)
A pre-written list of scavenger hunt items: things you can find in nature
Optional: glue and paper for final art collaboration
Begin by having a list handy and ask the children to find the items.
I’ve purposely made the list vague- the goal is to have kids using their senses and get away from trying to “do it right”. They’ll be doing it right by showing up with what they consider beautiful.
Once the child/children have collected these things, ask them to make something together out of their materials. Join them by starting a mandala, a fairy cottage or even making a face out of the objects. Extra points if you can each take turns arranging objects. If not- so be it!
This activity gets kids engaged with nature as well as their prefrontal and limbic brain systems. The scavenging allows them to feel accomplishment and mastery while also sharing their ideas of what ‘beautiful’ and ‘strange’ look and feel like- what a self-esteem booster! And finally, the art component encourages cooperation and creativity.