Connecting With Your Child Through Play

Play can be the long-sought bridge back to that deep emotional bond between parent and child.  Play, with all its exuberance and delighted togetherness, can ease the stress of parenting. Playful parenting is a way to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection.
— Lawrence Cohen

Children need to play. It’s their work and way of learning skills, making sense out of their world, and processing their emotions. Children release complicated emotions through play. Laughter specifically reduces stress hormones and increases bonding hormones. Laughter can quickly restore an affectionate connection between adult and child. Play helps parents and kids feel closer, helps kids learn lessons better, and increases cooperation.

Connecting with your child through play can be as little as 2 minutes or as long as 10-20 minutes. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

1.     Play hide and seek

2.     Hold your child in your arms and dance

3.     Play a tunnel activity (similar to London Bridge)

4.     Give a pillow ride (sit on a big floor pillow as you drag him/her around the room, maintaining eye contact)

5.     Play catch! Roll a ball back and forth, bat a balloon back and forth

6.     M&M hockey (use bendy straws and blow M&Ms across the table, then the opponent feeds the person who scores a piece of candy)

7.     Play toys (follow your child’s lead, refrain from asking questions, use undivided attention)

Parents as Soothing Agents

When our little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.
— L.R. Knost

Parents and caregivers are critically important in helping children regulate their emotional states. Often, however, it is the very tantrums and meltdowns that spike parents' own anxiety reactions, leaving them unable to respond effectively as soothing agents. You might find yourself attempting to calm your child down through persuasion, coaxing, arguing them out of the anxiety, or rescuing them from the emotion. What if parents stopped trying to change behavior, and changed how they thought about parenting? Parents have the power to adjust their own thoughts and feelings about the struggles of parenting and about what a child's behavior is trying to communicate.

Dr. Dan Siegel proposes "Connection before correction." Parents need to first listen to the child, acknowledge her feelings, and offer guidance. The acronym SOOTHE (developed by Goodyear-Brown, Ashford, and van Eys) helps parents remember strategies to responding to emotional symptoms.

S = soft tone of voice, soft tone of face

0 = organize the child's experience

O = offer choices or a way out

T = touch or physical proximity

H = hear what the child is needing

E = end and let go

Elevation of a parent's voice will only feed the escalation of a child's tantrum. "If parents can choose to lower their voices, use a soothing tone, and remain calm, they will be anchoring the child's experience beneath the current level of escalation." (Paris Good-Year Brown in Play Therapy with Traumatized Children).

A lack of structure intensifies anxiety and dysregulation. Consistent schedules and soothing routines help to organize your child. Offering a narrow range of choices to a child helps to manage the emotion that arises during a decision making process, as well as provide a positive sense of control. A simple touch or physical proximity is meant to reaffirm children and keep the parent child relationship intact. Hearing what your child is communicating is discerning what the child's need is. This discernment will guide your response. Does your child's behavior communicate a need for attention? power? to feel adequate? rest? a snack? Lastly, Dan Siegel (2003) talks about the toxic ruptures that can occur between parents and children when upset occurs but it is never processed. Parents need to acknowledge their right to their own feelings of anger and exhaustion, but also let go of it, and remain responsive to their child after the meltdown has occurred.

Once connection is built, parents can move to the next step and discuss the issue. Helpful questions that encourage connection are: "What happened? How did this anger feel inside your body? How did this feeling make you react? What would be another choice for next time you feel sad?"

If you are interested in more helpful tips, we recommend "The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind" by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. "Peaceful Parenting, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting" by Laura Markham)

When In Doubt, Connect

A few words on what to do when you don't know what to do. The following blog post is suitable for anyone who has a relationship in any capacity with someone else. I hope that keeps it broad enough. In my practice I facilitate strengthening the parent/caregiver/child relationship. However, the following same principles apply to romantic relationships, friendships, teacher/student interactions, workplace relationships, etc...

 

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It's not often that I quote myself, but when I do, it's because I struck a chord I needed to hear myself. In parenting or in other relationships we may find ourselves at a loss, confused, desperate, hopeless, discouraged, or hurt. It's in those times that we should respond with love and connection.

How do goals of behavior affect our responses?

I  frequently talk with parents about a child's goals for misbehavior--that behavior is goal directed and children are trying to fulfill a need. Adults do the same thing except our misbehavior looks differently, but is rooted in the same needs.

In our relationships and interactions with others, we automatically assign a story to our beliefs about ourselves, about others, and about our situations. These beliefs will trigger emotions which trigger a reaction. This reaction is trying to fulfill a need.

When we are are feeling discouraged, challenged, hurt, confused, or hopeless in our relationships, it would serve us well to reflect on what might be the other person's goal and what might be our goal.

Power/Control, Inadequacy/Fear of Failure, Revenge, Attention

1. Goal: power and control. The belief behind power/control is: I belong or I am valued when I am in control or proving no one can boss me. 

2. Goal: avoid inadequacy. The belief behind inadequacy/fear of Failure is: I don't believe I can belong so I'll convince others not to expect anything from me. I am helpless and unable. It's no use trying because I won't do it right. OR I will do everything I can to avoid being perceived as inadequate.

3. Goal: hurt, get even. The belief behind revenge is:  I'll hurt others as I feel hurt. I can't be liked or loved.

4. Goal: attention. The belief behind attention is: I am valued only when I am being noticed. I'm only important when I'm keeping you busy with me.

What's the best response?

To change a negative attitude you're holding about an individual, you'll need to uncover the underlying belief or goal that's creating your unhappy feelings. Begin by asking whether you believe people, in general, are doing the best they can. Researcher Brene Brown has discovered that believing that you and others are doing the best you can requires compassion. "You may not be absolutely sure about the intention behind someone's behavior, including your own. But being compassionate is about cultivating the attitude that normally people do their best with the tools they have. Compassion allows us to believe that we can all learn from our mistakes, enabling us to grow and change." (ThePropelPrinciples.com)

What's the most generous possible interpretation of the intentions words, and actions of others? (Brene Brown)

Equally, what's the most generous possible interpretation of our own actions? 

1. Identify goals of behavior with the most generous possible interpretation.

2. Evaluate whether your reaction is responding to their need/goal AND whether your reaction is self serving your goals of behavior. Are you reacting out of your own sense of inadequacy, need for control, from feeling hurt, or to be recognized?

When in doubt, do something that connects or communicates love.

When we feel at a loss for an appropriate response or don't have the time or emotional energy to calculate goals or beliefs, respond in a way that connects, preserves a relationship, or communicates love. (Remember, another person's response to your extension of connection does not determine your adequacy or value).

Offering connection or love does not imply permissiveness nor does it allow someone to take advantage of or walk all over you. Brene Brown recommends Living BIG: Boundaries, Integrity, Generosity. "Setting boundaries means getting clear on what behaviors are okay and what's not okay. Integrity is the key to this commitment because it's how we set those boundaries and ultimately hold ourselves and others accountable for respecting them." (Brene Brown, Rising Strong).

Raising Confident, Capable Kids in a Performance Filled Culture

Children who come to believe that our love, praise, or affection is contingent on their pleasing us and doing what we want them to do become the most vulnerable of all people.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

I have been silently taking inventory of our culture's and many families' perceptions of performance and raising confident/capable kids. What stands out the most is the unintentional reinforced value that performance has on self-worth. What also stands out are misconceptions of grace and confidence which affect children's perceptions of life and faith.

Before we dive in, you must understand as parents, that it is never too late to make improvements. We are easily caught up in performance based parenting and feeling the shame and guilt of not parenting the way we "should" or the way others do. We equate our parenting performance with our self-worth as a parent. We begin to parent out of fear of inadequacy instead out of grace and confidence.

We grow and change much faster when we shed discouraging thoughts about what we have failed to accomplish.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

To get all of us started in making some improvements, I will be referencing and pulling out pieces from these resources: Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen) and What's So Amazing About Grace? (Philip Yancey).

In today's culture we are bombarded with opportunities and pressures for our kids to perform or to prove their abilities. How do we carve out self-confidence, self-validation, self-discipline, good judgement, and a sense of responsibility in our children? These capabilities can be nourished in young people through  1. networking 2. finding meaningful roles 3. exploring 4. celebrating 5. setting limits, 6. developing self-control and 7. modeling grace.

First let's understand "perception." When we think through our experiences, we form conclusions about ourselves and our lives (perception). Children make decisions about themselves based upon their experiences. They think about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When a child's perceptions are threatened or when their perceptions are not consistent with the environment, their brain reacts, which sends a signal to their body to react. You've heard of fight, flight, or freeze. Read more about brain science and behavior here.

Perceptions are unique. Perceptions are keys to attitudes, motivation, and behavior. Perceptions must first be supported and challenged in order to change.

Glenn and Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World suggest ways of helping children process their experiences and examine their perceptions.

1. Identify: What are the important parts of the experience? What happened? What was the outcome? What were your feelings? What was most important?

2. Analyze: Why was that important to you? What were you trying to do?

3. Generalize: How can you use this information next time? What do you need to repeat to achieve the same outcome?

Nourishing Your Child's Capabilities

Networking

The simplest of all networks is friendship.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

People are tribal creatures designed for relationships. We excel when we collaborate, teach, affirm, and encourage each other. Who is in your tribe with whom you can dialogue about the world, about life, and about kids?

Finding Meaningful Roles

Today we need to deal with our young people actively in ways that cause them to believe they are significant contributors rather than just objects or passive recipients of our activities.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

As children find meaningful roles in their family and in their social groups, they develop a sense of importance and personal significance. Focus, direction, a sense of ownership, all help to foster this perception of personal significance. When we listen to our children and take them seriously, we can restore collaboration with them. What are some ways you can offer meaningful roles to your children? How can you incorporate family meetings into your routine? What ritual, tradition, or activity can you devote weekly time?

The need to be needed is often more powerful than the need to survive.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Exploring

Experience, especially one that’s reflected on, is a far more effective teacher than parents could ever be.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often parents or caregivers step in prematurely instead of allowing a child to do for himself or to experience for himself. When parents are too quick to offer an explanation or expertise, the child is left feeling vulnerable or intimidated. They may form the perception of: I am not capable unless they are here. What would happen if they were not there? Rescuer parents rescue children from inadequacy and then enable them to remain vulnerable. 

By helping our children explore their experiences, they will develop confidence in their ability to learn and problem solve.

Celebrating

When we recognize effort and progress, we get more results.  Sometimes we unintentionally set up a trap for our children by steering them to be independent and then objecting to their way of doing things. Instead, encourage children with specific feedback and acknowledgement of effort.

When we praise the performance or praise the results, we lose sight of the individual and her effort and contribution. Examine how you celebrate your own successes or how you evaluate your mistakes. Do you communicate that self worth and self control are independent of external circumstances?

Setting Limits

Setting limits is an exercise in using our wisdom and experience to anticipate possible problems and solve them in advance.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often we wait until after something has gone wrong to decide what we'll do about it. We often react with anger and say meaningless things. Determining limits together with a child before a situation occurs will help your child's sense of control remain intact. Using firmness and respect to communicate and follow through with a limit provides opportunity for your child to honor the limit and exercise self-control. 

Developing Self-Control

Our children's capability to recognize and acknowledge personal feelings directly affects their ability to select an appropriate behavioral response to a feeling.

Once children become comfortable with the notion that their feelings are, as are the feelings of others, a legitimate, worthy part of their lives, they are ready to take the next step-to self-control.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Developmentally around eight years old, most children are capable of controlling impulses that bring immediate gratification and instead choosing a behavior that achieves a goal.

Philip Yancey in What's So Amazing About Grace chooses the word gratitude for motivation for "being good." We want our children to strive to do well and to have self-control--not to make their parents or God love them (we already do), but because of gratitude and a sense of love within a relationship. 

Modeling Grace

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
— What's So Amazing About Grace? (Phillip Yancey)

Take the initiative to model grace by laying down retribution or fairness. Reinforce your love for your children regardless of performance or behavior. Speak truth and life into your children. Speak to who they are becoming. Forgive. Lay down all of your needs for gratitude and compliments.

We are modeling grace when we allow our children to operate from within themselves, to practice self-control, to explore experiences and opportunities, and to practice their abilities. Regardless of performance or failures, we can gracefully communicate to our children through our attitudes, words, modeling, and forgiveness that they are worthy of unconditional love. This sets the stage for them to explore faith, accept spiritual grace, and to realize their greater worth.

Next Steps

You've read through all of this information, now ask your self "What is the most important thing I've come to realize? What behavior change do I want to make? Why is this realization important right now? How can it make a difference in my life or my child's life? Where do I want to first apply it?"

Complete the following statement: As a result of this awareness, the first thing I will do at the first opportunity is....

Car, Mealtime, Bedtime, and Device Hassles over the Holidays

During the holidays our schedules and routines change, road trips happen, boredom may settle in, and parents may feel like they are dealing with more behavior hassles rather than focusing on whatever their reason is for the season. Here are some quick tips to implement when there are hassles in the car, at mealtime, at bedtime, and over electronic devices. (Tips compiled from Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glen).

Car Hassles

1. If you are having car hassles with the kids, it may be time for some training. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. When kids start yelling or fighting, simply pull over and wait without saying a word. In this case actions speak louder than words. You've clearly heard loud words coming from the backseat. Mix it up and use your actions rather than trumping the kids' noise level.

2. If the trip is long, make frequent stops so the kids can get out and stretch.

3. Before departing on a trip ask the kids for their ideas that will help make the trip more comfortable and fun for them. 

4. Utilize a calm down box in the car when frustrations arise. Items to include in a calm down box could be: headphones, silly putty, stretchy toy, magna doodle, or a pinwheel.

Mealtime Hassles

1. Trust your kids to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are not. Inadvertently interfering in this natural process could plant the seeds for eating disorders.

2. Sit down as a family and eat a meal together--without TV or devices. Engage your kids' help with setting the table or making decorations. Plan with them what they can do to contribute.

3. If kids know it's ok to choose what they will or won't eat, they are less apt to complain. 

4. If kids complain about the cooking, simply say it's okay not to eat it, but it hurts feelings when they say they don't like it.

5. Schedule your meal time and communicate what time to your kids. Emphasize sharing stories, visiting, and sharing good feelings.

6. Practice good table manners at a time other than mealtime by making it fun, using humor, and exaggerating.

7. If you see mealtime as a time to make kids eat and to lecture about manners, the kids will probably pay you back with bad manners.

Bedtime Hassles

1. Serious bedtime problems are most often as result of parents engaging in power struggles.

2. It's important for kids to have input, but not to run the family.

3. One reason children seek more attention at bedtime is that they haven't received a good dose of it during the day. Be available.

4. Define an allotted time for the bedtime routine and stick to it.

5. Once it is officially bedtime, it's time for you to get out of the room. If you child gets up, kindly and firmly without talking take your child by the hand to his room. Actions speak louder than words.

6. If you child has developed a habit of manipulation it may take 3-5 nights to retrain bedtime routines.

7. If you have engaged in power struggles, admit your mistakes with your child and learn together how to solve the problem and try the routine a different way.

8. If needed, create a bedtime routine chart with your child of what needs to be done.

9. Use humor or make it a game such as Beat the Clock.

10. Children can learn self reliance instead of manipulation skills or dependence on someone else to help them get to sleep. They can learn to respect a parents' need for time alone. 

Device Hassles

1. Involve your children in creating healthy guidelines for the use of electronic devices. Eliminate the "battle" by deciding together, and being kind and firm.

2. Give young children limited choices. For example 1 or 2 shows? Play on iPad for 30 minutes or watch a show for 30 minutes? Play before or after dinner?

3. Notice your own behavior. If you use your device excessively, it will be difficult to convince your kids to limit their time. 

4. Help the kids make a list of activities they could do when they feel bored.

5. Talk with your kids about the addictive qualities of TV or devices so they know why you are concerned.

6. Set up a rotation for sharing devices that they can all live with.

Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will ease hassles during the holidays so that you can continue healthy and productive routines. Or perhaps they will kick start your attempt at more healthy routines. Bottom line: children can learn that they don't always get what they want, that it is okay to feel upset about that, and that they will survive.

A Beginning to a Whining's End

If you've caught yourself with outstretched hands up to your head, clenched teeth, and saying "Stop the whining already!" this read might just be a beginning to a whining's end. 

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Why does my child whine?

1. Whining thrives on unmet needs. Usually that unmet need is attention. Sure, your child probably whines when he/she wants something that he can't have or he/she whines after you've said "no." We will get to that scenario in a minute. If your child is whining, he is getting a response from you. Oddly enough, even negative attention is getting some attention, and the negative attention is helping to fulfill a child's unmet need of attention.

2. Vocabulary. Your child may not have the vocabulary to tell you how he/she is feeling. 

3. H.A.L.T. Is your child hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?

4. Your child has limited control over his life and limited choices.

Why does whining lead to backtalk?

1. Mirroring what is being modeled. Are you reacting or responding to the whining? How does your child perceive your emotions and tone of voice?

2. Is there an atmosphere of power struggles by being too controlling or too permissive?

3. Are you making disrespectful demands or using calm, but firm invitations to cooperate?

4. Disappointment or setting up a situation for frustration/failure.

What can I do?

1. Put down your electronic device. Make eye contact.

2. Depending on the scenario, use physical touch such as a hug, sitting side by side, or a "tickle spider."

3. Reflect with your words how your child is feeling. "You're feeling disappointed you can't go to the park today. You really were looking forward to that."

4. Give choices within your boundaries. "You really want a snack right now. We will have dinner in 20 minutes. You can choose _____or______for snack before bed."

5. Use your sense of humor and laugh. It's ok not to be serious all of the time. Gain some perspective, view behavior as age appropriate, and see the humor in situations with children. Sometimes we misperceive being silly for disrespect. A laugh or a quick joke could diffuse a situation that could have otherwise turned into an unintentional power struggle.

6. Set up a routine or schedule board. Welcome you child's input into creating the schedule. Your child will feel ownership and will feel heard if he is allowed to make some choices or help create the schedule board.

7. If there is a hidden message behind the whine, try to meet that need: Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Unloved? Reality check: If we as parents are also feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, isn't it that much more difficult to deal with our kids' difficult behaviors?

8. Practice self care. Refresh. Relax. Play.

9. During a peaceful or happy time, brainstorm with your child how she can ask for something without whining. Practice. Role play. Point out the difference between a whiney voice and a respectful, age appropriate voice.

Ignore the whining and find lots of ways to encourage your child.
— Positive Discipline A-Z by Nelsen, Lott, & Glenn

10. Apologize if you have spoken disrespectfully. Model respectful requests and avoid comebacks. 

11. Share your feelings: "My feelings are hurt when you talk to me that way. I am going into the other room until you are ready to talk to me respectfully."

12. Instead of a command, "Pick up that toy before you leave." Try saying, "What about that toy?"

13. Ask your child to repeat to you what you just said. "What was my answer to that?" 

Hopefully some of these tips/tricks you will find useful depending on the situation and the child. Thanks goes to one of my favorite books to help guide this discussion: Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn. Sprinkled with some personal experiences, of course.

Kelly

Engaging Your Kids in Conversation with Thoughtful Questions

Thoughtful Questions

Thanks to several friends of The Playroom Lubbock, a recent blog post circulated around which you may have noticed: The Key Jar by the Momastery blog. You can find it here: http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/24/key-jar/

This prompted me to share so many great ideas to engage your kids in conversation without the worn out "How was your day" question. Our kids learn and feel engaged in different ways: some are more verbal and love to use their words, others love using their whole bodies, some like to be analytical, and some like to be dramatic or silly. Hopefully you can adapt some of these ideas to work well for you and your child or to work well for at home, in the car, or tucked away in your purse.

Before I unlock these ideas, let's dive into some great points Momastery had in their blog post.

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Glennon also writes, "Thoughtful questions are the keys we use to do the unlocking and safekeeping." I would like to add that quality time and play in an emotionally safe environment can also greatly contribute to unlocking a child's world. It's almost time to unlock some of these ideas, but secondly, let's talk about how to "safekeep" your child's answers to these questions in order to promote a nonjudgmental and encouraging conversation.

Safekeeping

1. Reflect or paraphrase their answer

2. Leave out your opinion. It could come across judgemental or that you are evaluating their response as right/wrong.

3. Verbalize the feeling you sense from your child. "You're feeling ______about that."

4. Ask how you can help

5. Ask what your child would like to do next to accomplish ______

6. Reassure your child that you are available to any of their questions/concerns

7. Refrain from giving advice unless your child specifically asks.

8. Show your attention by using eye contact and freeing your hands.

9. Be considerate of your child's vulnerability in sharing something personal. It may not be something to share with siblings, friends, or social media.

10 Ways to engage your kids in conversation

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1. TableTopics is a cube of conversation cards that can be purchased for around $25. They come in sets for family, couples, teens, etc. Decide upon a time your child can draw a card. This would be great for in the car or stash a few in your purse.

2. Head over to Momastery and print the Key Jar questions for free. http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/24/key-jar/

3. Buy a game of Jenga just for a conversation game. Use a sharpie marker to write down questions. Set up the Jenga game in a safe place and each day your child can find the challenge of drawing a Jenga block from the tower and answering the question. (From http://somethingtotalkaboutslp.blogspot.com/2012/01/conversation-jenga.html?m=1

4. Use a beach ball or other large plastic ball and a sharpie to write questions. Toss the ball and wherever your child's thumb or index finger lands, that is the question to answer. Great for kids who like to be active or use their bodies. (from http://morethanelementary.blogspot.com/2011/08/getting-to-know-you-activity-with-beach.html?m=1

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5. Use a jigsaw puzzle to write questions on the back. Your child can flip a piece over each day to answer.

6. Use play mustaches (found for $1 at Dollar Tree) and the free printable "I Mustache You a Question Conversation Starters" from teacherspayteachers.com. This gives kids a dramatic or silly approach to answering more serious questions.

7. Use a wand or a sword to answer questions. This gives kids a sense of power to be able to wave a wand or sword in conversation. (from http://heidibritz.com/2015/04/29/every-slp-needs-a-magic-wand/

8. Use puzzle floor mats and papers with questions. This can be a hop scotch type game, bean bag toss game, or musical squares. Where ever the child lands or the bean bag lands, he answers that question. Great for active kids!

9. Head over to iMom for some printable conversation starters you can cut out and keep in a jar, diaper wipes, container, or something your child can decorate and "take ownership." http://www.imom.com/printable_categories/conversation-starters/

10. Use puppets! You can pick up puppets at the Dollar Tree. Use some printable questions and your child can pick up a puppet to help answer their question. Helps children with risk taking of being honest and vulnerable.

We hope you enjoy adapting these ideas to fit your child's personality and needs. Feel free to comment with your own ideas or share these with others.