Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Recently I have been exploring play, which is a major theme discussed and used in Aware Parenting. Aletha Solter's book 'Attachment Play' provides a range of games for different topics based on sound scientific knowledge. She also explores different themes children experience and how we can use play to help elicit cooperation, laughter and connection, to support our children through their experiences and emotions.
When I first learnt about this idea of play, it was in Lael's workshop and it was explored through the idea of 'Non-directed child centred play', another key element of Aware Parenting. This is where each parent/caregiver sets aside a set amount of time with their children and engage in child-led play. You can set a timer (this definitely makes it easier) and let your child guide you as to what and how you play. This was incredibly challenging for me. I didn't feel like I had the skills or capacity to play with the girls. I none the less started small, with just 5 minutes being present each day and slowly built it up until we now enjoy a solid block of up to one hour together.
I then continued to further explore play in my course to become an Aware Parenting instructor. What I realised is that play is even more detrimental to children's development than I previously understood. When I studied to become an Early Childhood Educator I learnt about the importance of play-based learning. There is a time for free unstructured play both indoors and outdoors, imaginative play and role play; children learn about their world and play out their experiences through these types of play. I never learnt however about using play to form a secure attachment and connection with a parent or caregiver, or that play can be used to help with cooperation or the release of pent-up feelings.
There are so many ways that I have included play into our daily lives. I am seeing the wonderful benefits; less power struggles getting into the car seat, brushing teeth and getting dressed in the morning, to helping create laughter to remove stress and tension or releasing feelings and fears through tantrums. The first and easiest play I used was for eliciting cooperation with daily routines around the house and going out. Who knew playing, 'Does it go on here?' or 'hide and seek clothes' or 'let's brush doggies teeth first,' by being silly and creating laugher, would in-turn create more cooperation with these tasks?!
Attachment play is also wonderful for allowing children to explore their feelings. When we play games with our children, it can sometimes allow them to release built up tension and emotions that they have been holding onto. This could be from us shouting at them or feeling powerless. When play leads to crying or raging it provides a beautiful space for healing and allows us to build an even greater connection with our children.
Another area play has really helped with, is sleep. I always read that children need to "wind down" after bath time and should not be riled about before bed. I never understood why my two girls always ran around like crazy, like the bath made them even more wild (even when I put calming lavender essential oil inside). Then I started to understand a bit more about separation anxiety, how going to sleep can be challenging because children view this as a time where they are apart from us. So they are asking for connection! Through playing games such as 'oh please don't go to sleep' (insert overly sarcastic voice), pillow fights and a few others, I found that after a few rounds of some of these games, my girls would happily drift off to sleep next to me. Rather than fighting me for a million glasses of water and wanting to have long conversations about the day, dreamland approached.
Attachment play is an incredibly huge piece that I may need to separate into further articles to explore how you can really engage with all the different elements. But for now, I wonder if you would be willing to play with your children? Could you start by spending 5-10 minutes being really present and engage in some child led play? or could you play a game to help them get into the car seat instead of using power over and forcing them in?
Just remember that when our children ask "Will you play with me?" they are asking us to take part in their world, to explore their interests and hear their concerns. Being present and taking part in their lives now, helps to develop a strong bond, that hopefully remains, as they likely will come to you with the 'big' things later in life. And in truth, that's all we really want, to be able to share life together through a strong connection, with huge amounts of love, together with a little bit of laughter.