Are you looking to strengthen the relationship between you and your kid but aren’t sure where to start? Jeff LaPonsie, a therapist who specializes in family therapy and counseling kids, is my guest blogger for this month. For more questions about counseling for kids or how to enhance your family’s well-being, check out Kalamazoo Child and Family Counseling Website: http://kzoofamilycounseling.com/
Would you believe that the quality of your relationship with your child has a powerful impact on their life trajectory? The parent-child relationship is one of the greatest predictors of mental health outcomes for an individual. Parent–child attachment affects infant and child development in many ways. Children with secure attachments in childhood develop more positive social–emotional competence, cognitive functioning, physical health and mental health. Securely attached children know they can rely on their parents to have their needs met and have safe base from which to explore and take risk.
Conversely, children with troubled attachments are more at risk for negative outcomes including mental health problems like depression or anxiety. Through their first relationships, children develop an internal working model of the world. Children relate how they see themselves in relation to attachment figures. For example, “Am I deserving of love?” or “If I need something, I can ask for help. I can rely on others,” and “Most people are safe; the world is generally a safe place.” Many children who were neglected at a young age, experienced trauma or had multiple caregivers, have internal working models that lends them to think, “The only person who can help me, is me. People can’t be trusted.” They may also think, “The world is not safe, people will hurt me.”
Many parent-child couples that come to counseling are not concerned with the insecurity of poor attachment. More often they are looking to increase the strength of their connection to increase the child’s self-esteem, confidence and inner thoughts about their abilities while trying to buffer the impact of adversity. It is for this reason that therapy focusing on the parent-child relationship does not need to be limited to disorder attachments. The goal of most parent-child relationship therapies is to go from good to great. One of the primary ways to strengthen parent-child relationships is to play.
Play has the powerful ability to be the vehicle for connection between parent and child. It is safe, engaging, and fun. Virginia Axline, one of the founders of contemporary play therapy, put it simply, “Enter into children’s play and you will find the place where their minds, hearts, and souls meet.” Axline describes play as a catalyst for attunement between parent and child. Attunement describes how reactive one person is to the emotional state of another.
5 Playful interactions to strengthen relationships that take less than five minutes.
- Checkups/ “Taking Care of Owies” –
The checkup activity helps the child connect with their bodies and accept nurturing. A parent scans the child’s body from his toes all the way to his head. The parent notices all the “boo-boos” or “owies” and offers to take care of them. Parents can offer to kiss the owie carefully and gently rub lotion around it, or simply just notice it.
- Create a top-secret special handshake
A parent and child can make up a special top-secret handshake together. The parent and child take turns adding new gestures. For example, parents or the child can: high five, clasp hands, wiggle fingers, fist-bump and so on. The handshake can be multiple steps for older children and fewer steps for younger kids. The parent and child then practice the handshake until it is mastered. The shared experience can be used as a ritual at transitions to help a reluctant/hesitant child take a new risk.
- Cotton Ball Blow
For this activity, you and your child lie down on your stomachs on the floor. Participants face each other and hold hands. The parent and child take turns blowing the cotton ball back forth trying to blow the ball under the other person’s chin. You can modify the activity so that you and your child use a table or large pillow to remain seated rather than lay on the floor.
- Beep and Honk
Press your child’s nose and say, “Beep!” then press her chin and “Honk!” You can guide your child to touch your nose and chin and make noises. Make different beeps and honks as you touch your child in different places, such as: ear, forehead, elbow, hand, foot, etc. You can make a special noise when you touch a specific face or body part like a horse neighing or duck quacking.
- Pop the Bubble
Blow a bubble and catch it on the bubble wand. Have your child pop the bubbles with a particular body part, such as: finger, toe, elbow, shoulder or ear. This is a structured way of playing with bubbles. Bubbles capture the interest of young children and can be used to pull a child into play. Additionally, structuring the game is a helpful way to calm a child who is active by making them slow-down. This game can also be used to engage a withdrawn child by prompting more spontaneity. For example, have the child pop all the bubbles as quickly as he can.
These activities are meant to be engaging, safe and, most importantly, fun. You may find that different activities resonate differently with your child. The important take away is that in five minutes or less you can connect with your child in a meaningful and playful way. Play helps foster attunement, offers a shared experience and bolsters your relationships. These activities were selected from exercises endorsed by Theraplay, an evidenced-based play therapy model that helps parents and children connect and strengthen attachments.
~Jeff LaPonsie LMSW