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Connecting Through Play

December 13, 2010

This article originally appeared on my blog on December 15, 2009. It has since been published in several newsletters and blogs and has become my most popular article. I’m republishing it here today because the holiday message is timeless!

In the past few years, I’ve noticed that the year seems to end on November 1.  We’ve barely packed away the Halloween costumes and all of the sudden we’re singing “auld lang syne” while sporting silly party hats.  The sixty days in between are gone in the blink of an eye- like some unexplained time warp that propels us forward while we scramble to just make it day to day.  We’ve got pumpkin pies to bake, holiday parties to smile through, and a Christmas card list that seems to grow exponentially each passing year.  Spending time with our children creeps lower and lower on our list of “things to do” until we realize we haven’t spent five minutes of uninterrupted time with them in over six weeks.  What we do notice is that our children seem to have less frustration tolerance and their behaviors are a bit more difficult to deal with.  In turn, our patience is limited (or gone).  We are out of sync.  With ourselves.  With our children.


Feeling connected to our children is an essential element of good parenting and a peaceful home.  When children need to reconnect, their behaviors become more annoying and downright obnoxious.  Typical discipline methods don’t work and it’s up to us to realize that what they need isn’t a time out- it’s time with us.

Children connect through play.   Laughter.  Silly games.  Fits of giggles and tickles.  It’s hard for parents to find the energy for play- to really get down on the floor with our children and have fun.  A lot of us have forgotten how to play.  Luckily, play is fun and laughter is contagious.  When we give ourselves permission to forget about Christmas cards this year, or only bake one pie for Thanksgiving, we can use that time to give our children the gift of play, and ultimately the chance to reconnect.  When children are connected to their parents, they increase their ability to handle frustration and disappointment.  They are better able to manage their complex emotions and they feel more confident in themselves.

Taking time to reconnect with our children is a small investment when compared to what we get in return.  And the investment in time does not have to be substantial- our children benefit from even five minutes of play.  The difficult part is figuring out what to do.  Think about the last time your child dissolved into a fit of giggles.  What makes your child laugh from his belly and beg “Again!  Again!”

A mom and fellow play therapist recently told me she keeps a recipe box full of index cards with ideas for play.  When she finds herself feeling overwhelmed or fussing at her children for normal four-year-old behaviors, she grabs her box and pulls out a card.  For the next five or ten minutes, her primary goal is to focus completely on her children.  Her secondary goal is to LAUGH with her children.  And laugh hard.

You know what gets your child giggling, but sometimes it’s nice to add to a few tricks to our repertoire.

  • Sock Game– See who can get the other person’s socks off first.
  • Play Hide and Seek and when you find your child, pretend you’ve found the scariest monster imaginable.  Or when you child is searching for you, jump out and scare him.
  • Animal Talk- Talk to each other using only animal sounds and pretend to have a conversation.
  • I Love You So Much I Can’t Let You Go- Hold your child in a big embrace.  Start to loosen your grip and just as your child is about to escape, grab her back into your arms declaring “I love you SO much, I can’t let you go!”
  • Dance Party! Turn on five minutes of 80s dance music and jump, twirl, and dance.
  • Tickle Time- All children love to be tickled.  Tickle his feet or his tummy and then stop abruptly, becoming very serious.  Moments later you’re overcome with the urge to tickle again- which will take your child by surprise each time!
  • Hand Stories- Have your child make a fist.  Pull up a finger one at a time, making up a line of a story for each finger.  Tell silly or sweet stories about your child.
  • Play Chase- A great game for outside.  Chase your child for a moment, pretending your couldn’t possibly catch her.  Suddenly catch you child, grabbing him into a full embrace, then let him go and do it again!
  • Name Games- Use familiar songs and stories but incorporate your child’s name into the song/story.

As we head into December, take just a few minutes each day to truly connect with your child.  Spend time laughing.  Give them your undivided attention.  Don’t answer the phone (you can call them back).  You’ll notice you have more patience for your child.  You’ll feel more in control of your life this busy holiday season.  Those Christmas cards don’t have to go out.   But your child needs to feel connected to you.


Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin and Bastrop Texas specializing in adoption and attachment.

P.S. MY HOLIDAY GIFT FOR YOU: Sign up to receive my blog via email or RSS and I’ll send you this “Connecting Through Play” Magnet- four fun ideas to post on your fridge for quick ideas on how to connect with your child. To see an example, click here. If you already receive my blog via email or RSS, leave me a comment or send me an email and I’ll send you a magnet!

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