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Family & Parenting
April 10, 2023
Building Deeper Connections with Children through Play

Angel Dacanay

women sitting on a bed playing guitar while a young child dances on the bed with toys at her feet

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Playtime Bonding: Connecting with Your Children through Fun and Games

Keeping up with our kids’ demand for attention can be hard at times knowing that we have so many responsibilities to attend to. It seems like there’s not enough time in a day to do everything and it can make us feel guilty because we know that having a connection or relationship with our kids is crucial to their development. But how do we connect with our children with so little time we have in a day?

We know that play is a child’s language (as talking is to adults!). It’s also their way to learn skills, such as social skills and problem-solving skills. Play also aids in the development of their cognitive, physical, and emotional capabilities. It builds their confidence, allows them to work through their fears, and allows them to resolve conflicts in a group.

While children need to play on their own or with other children, it is also important that parents are playful, spends time playing with their children, and advocate for their playtime. When we play with our children, we must be attuned to them, we must be aware of their needs, and we respond to these needs. As their main caregiver, we must be regulated as well. This creates a healthy attachment and helps in their own emotion regulation. When a child does not feel safe to explore their experiences and emotions, attachment is compromised.

Responding appropriately to children during play time helps build the attachment model and life skills they need growing up.  

Here is a brief guide on how to have quality playtime with your child (for 30 minutes!):

  1. Allow your child to figure things out by themselves – what and how to do things during play rather than giving advice or suggestions, or using evaluative language (e.g., good or bad). This promotes independence and increases their confidence.

  1. Use language such as “this one, that one, yellow one,” we do not label (e.g., gender biases) for imaginative play unless a child does the labelling.  For example, “It seems that one wearing a white coat is happy to be with the one wearing a blue dress,” we do not label it as a doctor or a princess unless the child says so. This gives them the freedom to express themselves, increases their confidence, and stimulates their imagination.

  2. Use statements and avoid asking questions. Asking questions pressures a child to give answers, may elicit anxiety, and does not really form connections.

  1. Reflect on the child’s feelings or the character’s feelings. Remember, the characters in their play are projections of your child’s own experience in the world.

  1. Set limits when needed. First, acknowledge the feeling, then communicate the limitations, and state an alternative. For example, “It is frustrating when you can’t make your Lego tower stable, but you may not throw them, instead, you can tell me your words or stomp your feet. This allows the child to express what they are feeling or thinking.

  1. We regulate and we attune. We take notice of our voice (warmth), body language (eye contact, body position), and our own emotions. We have to be mindful of whether what we are saying is increasing your child’s involvement in play or not. We have to follow our child’s verbal and nonverbal cues. Don’t be scared to match your child’s energy while playing. When parents are attuned to and co-regulate with their child during moments of intense emotions, they will learn to internalize and adapt strategies of self-regulation. Children will learn to “respond” rather than “react,” which is helpful as they grow up especially when in stressful moments. A child’s ability to calm themselves increases their ability to problem solve and make sound decisions.

  1.   We let our children LEAD THE PLAY and let them be the director.

  1. Most importantly we join the PLAY with 100% of our mind, body, and heart. This means no mobile phones when we are with them! Understandably, life can be busy, and most of the time we are too exhausted to engage in play with our children. A maximum of 30-minute play time is enough for children below 4 years old, because of their attention span.

The quality of attachment we build with our children will reflect how well they will cope with the stress and difficulties of life. The more secure they feel about their attachment and the love they receive from us, the more accepting they are of themselves and their world.

For more information and courses on parenting and child’s development and mental health, you can visit the Institute of Child Psychology:

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