I thought about making a list:
“Ten ways to create moments of playful connection with your children.”
“Playfully connect with your child to fortify their emotional regulation during COVID-19.”
“Five ways children are reaching out to us to meet their needs without actually talking about their needs.”
But there are just so many ways. So, instead, I will discuss the importance of it.
How, when, and where we playfully connect with children is largely shaped by our resources. Many of us have scouted those resources—the spaces, and places available in our homes, neighborhoods, and nearby towns—by now. The most important space/place/resource, however, is the connection we create, and we can do that anywhere at any time.
For our family, we’ve constructed living room forts that stay up for days, we built a treehouse, we have spaces where each of us can get away from one another, we have places where we gather and come together.
We allow for the coming and going of contact and connection so that our children can move between isolation and intimacy. Each developmental stage has its own healthy balance of the two. Babies, for instance, require a lot of intimacy with little mini-bursts of isolation. They are little beings who find emotional regulation in contact with other people. Teens, on the other hand, require isolation and intimacy with peers and in exploring the world with bursts of intimacy and refuge with their parents.
Parents hopefully have skills for their own emotional regulation. We turn to our partners, friends (sometimes online), family, and other support groups for the kind of connection and consultation that tends to our emotional needs. We find joy in connecting with our children. We don’t demand connection with our children in order to emotionally regulate. (We don’t require them to meet our needs.)
Introduction to Emotional Literacy in Play Therapy
March 27–This workshop was designed to help play therapists address the expressed and demonstrated needs for increased emotional regulation in children.
As a parent who has been sheltering in place with a partner and four children for 11 months now, I have found ways to balance my needs for isolation with my needs for intimate connection. I’ve become accustomed to putting brackets around my need for quiet time alone in order to assist with virtual school. I’ve also learned to do the same when one of my sons asks for a hug or brings me a book to read.
In turn, my children have become accustomed to the reliability of my availableness to them. They also have learned to trust that when I say I am not available for them, that I soon will be.
In these ways, they are learning to tend to themselves, age appropriately, when I am not available for tending to them.
We’ve found our own path through these times. Gratitude helps. Take a moment to find it. Here’s what I am grateful for:
- I am grateful my children have each other for playing.
- I am grateful we have a backyard space in which to play.
- I am grateful that my 7-year-old brings me books to read as a form of connection.
- I am grateful my 9-year-old will go around to each family member and convince them to stop what they are doing to join in a family game.
- I am grateful my 12-year-old knows when to ask for closeness and that when words fail him he will pick up my arm and drape it around him.
- I am grateful my 15-year-old will bring his thoughts and questions about society and the world at large to us.
- I am grateful they all know when they need to get away from each other, and from their parents, and that they have the security to yell that they hate us, school, and covid when intensity feels like the safest form of connection.
- I am also grateful that sometimes they do self-regulate, and they return to us with apologies.
- I am grateful they have this chance to learn so much about their feelings and to put them into words.
Sometimes, they need to be in intimate connection with their authentic feelings (which range the full spectrum) and sometimes they need to be in isolation … both are paths to emotional regulation. They have learned to strike a balance of isolation and intimacy. They oscillate between the two to find their way through the feelings of being a child in isolation from the world while in forced connection with family during a global pandemic.
Create Moments of Playful Connection for Yourself
Parents, we are doing the same. I wake up between 4:30 and. 5:30 because my youngest son wakes up at 6. This is how I get time in isolation—where I find an intimate connection with my thoughts and feelings—before my children come to me seeking connection. I find connection with others through online yoga classes. I connect with the world through gardening and watching the birds in our backyard.
Create Moments of Meaningful Connection with Play
During this time, I’ve asked myself about meaningful connections. I’m aware that play helps us connect and find meaning. I’m aware that many people are sheltering in place alone. Many families have one parent. Many children are only children. Not everyone has pets or even plants to tend to. Not everyone has outdoor spaces.
Outdoor spaces available for engaging in nature and play are important. When people and animals aren’t available for safe connection, nature is always there.
Create Moments of Playful Connection in Nature
As a child, I have many memories of sitting in my bedroom window, looking outside, and daydreaming. I withdrew into a playful world simply by seeing the ground, garden, and trees around me. I also have memories of climbing trees, digging tunnels through dirt, and battling imaginary shadow-cast foes. I tested and expanded my limits as I engaged with nature playfully in vertical exploration as I climbed trees.
I also have fond memories of being in an intimate connection with family in nature. One memory is looking up at the stars with my dad as we listened to the frogs around us. We explored the universe together.
Create Moments of Playful Connection to Grow and Develop
Play facilitates growth. Play is engagement. It’s exploration. It’s an arena to challenge and expand our capacities. It’s a place of discovery. In play, we discover the world, others, and, very importantly, ourselves.
Play is an overlapping space of connection. When I sat in my bedroom window, I projected my imagination onto a screen … my backyard … the two worlds, reality and imagination, mingled. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was exploring, discovering, feeling, and learning to emotionally regulate. I was developing all the skills I rely on today.
Our children do the same through play.
Create Moments of Playful Connection with Children
OK, here’s a list. Remember, play doesn’t have to be a long, planned process. Play is like prayer … five minutes of undivided attention and playful (prayerful) connection is more powerful than 10 minutes of being barely there. Take care of yourself so you can be there.
- Let play be spontaneous
- Let it be 5 minutes of undivided attention
- Take deep breaths to settle before connecting
- Toes and nose follow your child
- Draw together
- Paint together
- Play a game
- Build a fort
- Verbally reflect what they are saying
- I see you are …
- I hear you saying …
- You are enjoying …
- Are they finding joy in a video game? Ask if you can watch. Really follow what they are doing and let them know you are in that world with them.
- Are they playing legos? Be with them and let them know you are watching by verbalizing what you notice them doing.
These moments in which we create playful connection matter. They fortify us all for what is to come …. even, and especially, when we don’t really know what that is.
Soul Prints: Seasonal Experiential Self-Care Workshops
Join me on the Spring Equinox to explore where you are and how you want to connect. Prince includes materials and shipping.