Fear is often at the basis of much aggressive behaviour. Which is why play is so effective here. We’re not compounding the fear or aggression with more fear-based aggressive tactics. We’re getting to the heart of our children’s feelings.
High energy games are brilliant as they meet your child with where they’re at energy-wise, and it helps to offload stored energy & emotions surrounding aggression.
- pillow fights
- scared pillow
- chasing games
- sock game
- rough & tumble
- love gun
#2 SIBLINGS - INTRODUCING A NEW BABY & SIBLING RIVALRY
Having a new sibling is really challenging for our children. There are so many fears that can come up, such as - am I still going be loved, what’s my place in the family? Am I losing my special time with mummy & daddy? Play helps enormously as, we can reassure our child until we’re blue in the face. If they don’t FEEL it, they won’t believe it. Play brings the feeling of love - i.e. fills your child’s emotional cup, and releases some of the upset.
Likewise, having an established sibling can be annoying, unsettling and is a source of competition over affection, toys, etc.
The more your children can show you their true feelings and the more you can accept them, the less likely they are to act out on these feelings with their sibling. Play brings a sense of acceptance which can be missing in the busyness of multiple children.
These games work in both situations, so adapt depending on the age of your child:
- Special Time
This is key. When you’re pregnant in the build up to the new arrival, and when you have more than one child. This is a key way to connect one-on-one with each child and helps to fill & maintain your child’s ‘emotional cup'
- Freedom of the mouth
Allow your child to feely express how they’re feeling with you.
e.g. when I was pregnant, my daughter (aged 5) started to say that she wanted to throw the baby in the bin. So instead of getting cross with her and telling her that was a mean thing to say, I went along with it. And said “Oh yes. And let’s throw Daddy in the bin as well!” We then both went on to say all the people / things we would throw in the bin, including our beloved dog and then inanimate objects. We were both laughing and releasing tension.
- “He’s Mine” Game
This really fills your child’s emotional cup from both you and your partner / their dad.
your child is in the middle between you & their dad. You each hold one of their hands and playfully fight over who loves him the most. “I love him more” “No, I love him more!” “He’s mine” “No, he’s mine!” Your child will just drink in all of this vying for his love & attention and will LOVE it!
- Pillow fights together
encouraging your children to gang up on you is a great way to re-forge their connection. You’ll need to monitor that they don’t get too rough with each other (and follow the pre-agreed rules) and then step in if they do. Otherwise this is a great, high energy way of reconnecting.
#3 PICKY EATING
Food times can become such a battle ground. As parents we can become obsessed over how much our children are eating, what they’re eating, what they’re not eating. It can quickly become stressful, especially if you’re worrying about their weight & health.
So, again, play can help! Simple games, similar to the toothbrush games, really work a treat.
These aren’t designed to over-ride our children’s natural appetite, so it’s not about forcing food into them! It’s about releasing any tension which has developed around this time, and help meal times be more pleasurable for you both.
This was a real issue for me as my daughter became increasingly picky and uncooperative around meal times. Logic, reasoning, pleading(!), distraction, desperation, all failed. Play worked in helping both of us become less stressed and more able to enjoy this time together.
- You hold the spoon and pretend not to know where to go. Eventually your child will tell or show you it’s to go in their mouth (silly mummy!)
- (yes, I know this ‘should’ only be for toddlers who we maybe feed with a spoon. But when you’re desperate to get food into your child, it’s amazing what you’ll do!! So I did this when my daughter was 3 / 4 years old….)
- food is scared of being eaten
- pretend to be scared of the broccoli (or whatever it is your child is refusing to eat). Be overly dramatic in saying things like - “aaagghh the broccoli makes me fart / my legs drop off” or whatever it is that will be funny to your child
- playfully instruct your child not to eat the broccoli. And then look around the room (which gives them the opportunity to quickly try & eat it). When you look back and notice it’s gone, again, be playfully dramatic in getting cranky or worried that their legs are going to drop off
#4 RUDE WORDS / SPITTING
This can be very triggering for us! We can often stop behaviour like hitting or throwing, but we can’t physically stop rude words coming out of our children's mouths!
Play is highly effective here as it prevents the off-track behaviour from escalating and turning into a power battle. It also gets into the heart of why they are saying them - such as fear & uncertainty after hearing them elsewhere, powerlessness if they were said in anger to them, playing with the power which these words bring.
A big fear around using play in situations such as these is that it will be seen to encourage the behaviour even more. The beauty of this type of play is that the opposite is true. Because it brings connection & emotional release, the reason behind the behaviour is addressed so there is no longer the need to say them / do whatever it is.
- When your child next starts to say them, join them! Dive into it and embellish on what they’ve said.
- For example, when my daughter was younger she used to call me a poo poo bum bum head. Explaining, reasoning and pleading made no difference with her! She still kept on calling me that name. So when I brought play I said: “NO! I’m a poo poo POO POO bum bum head!” She loved it. And then I would start to incorporate other innocuous words into the insult. e.g. You’re a poo poo flower head, or a bum potato head. Anything which tapped into what she was saying but then brought everyday words into it so that the original words & insult lost its charge. She would follow suit and we’d be calling each other ridiculous, nonsensical names which using completely innocent words
- Actively encourage your child to insult you with made-up innocent names: “whatever you do, don’t call me a potato head”. This way, you’re tapping into your child’s desire to work on using words that shock, and which get a reaction from you, but they are acceptable in polite society! When your child calls you that, you dramatically respond - either upset, or cranky, or outraged - whatever will get the most laugh from your child: “aagghh - you called me a potato head! boo hoo…..! / I’m so cross!"
- At home, set a timer and allow freedom of the mouth for 5 mins. Allow your child to say whatever rude words they want to and you join in too!
- In the video I have an example of a mum who did this with her 8 year old son who was using grown-up swear words. She, her son & her husband all swore at each other for about 5-10 minutes. Lots of laughter. A huge amount of fun. When the timer went off, the game ended and her son didn’t use those words in everyday conversation again. He did want to play the game again, which they did the following weeks.
#5 SEPARATION ANXIETY
This is a big topic and one we’ll cover more throughout the course. Play is helpful to address some of the fears, so some of the games include:
- Special Time
- this keeps your child’s ‘emotional cup’ topped up, which will help them to feel more connected with you and in turn more able to be away from you
- It also helps to bring emotions to the fore on a regular basis (which we’re talking about more next week) so they aren’t carrying as many stored emotions around with them which can impact on them feeling happy about being away from you
- Peek a boo
- such a simple game I’m sure you’ve played with your baby & toddler. It’s an easy way to work on the separation and your reappearance. Your child’s laughter shows they are obviously delighting in seeing you again, and also releasing fear about your disappearance
- Hide & Seek
- Again, simple and highly effective. And works with children of all ages, as their capacity for successfully hiding and finding you increases.
- “Where are you?!"
- Great for littlies, if they’re sitting on your lap or nearby and you pretend you can’t see them. They will jump up to show you where they are.
- And as your child gets older, you can still do this - you come across as the silly one who can’t see someone who's right there, but that’s perfect.
- “Please don't go"
- If your child is happily going into another room, or is leaving you to go on a play date, you can playfully be dramatic in pretending that you’ll miss them and that you don’t want them to leave you.
- They then become the dominant, powerful one who is choosing to leave, and will take great delight in this reversal of emotions & situation.
- It’s important to be obviously playful as when I first did this with my daughter, she thought I was genuinely upset and became concerned!
#6 BEDTIME STRUGGLES
This is a classic time for annoying behaviour and another big topic we'll go into more throughout the course!
We can be so focused on getting our kids to sleep that anything which gets in the way of that become really frustrating. Traditionally we’ve been told to calm our kids down. To create a quite, wind-down environment. This approach is the opposite of that! It’s about meeting our child with where they are at.
So if your children are running around having lots of fun, encourage that! Dive into it yourself. It’s the perfect opportunity to connect with our kids after a busy day. Plus, they will be working on feelings that have accumulated throughout the day, so they can release them through laughter.
High energy games can be quick and a great way to release energy & emotions, and enable you to re-connect with your children.
- jumping on the bed
- chasing games
- rough & tumble
#7 CLEANING TEETH
Another potential flash point - it’s something our children need to do, yet often don’t want to do it.
When my daughter was little and struggled to clean her teeth, I tried lots of different strategies including reading books about going to the dentist & looking after teeth, talking about bacteria in the mouth and that her teeth could all fall out(!). I got to the point of just wanting to shove the toothbrush in her mouth just to get the job done! But that’s really not a great long term strategy…..!
The reasoning and rational explanations often don’t cut through to our kids in situations which become increasingly stressful for all of us. They just not able to care. So play is brilliant in really helping our kids in these situations.
- scared toothbrush
- toothbrush not sure where to go
#8 GETTING DRESSED
Getting house in the morning can be really stressful as there is a looming deadline to get out of the door. These couple of games help to diffuse a potentially stressful situation and bring play & laughter to doing something essentially mundane:
- Pretend to not know where certain clothes go on your child (or yourself?!). e.g. pants on head, socks on hands.
- be the silly, bumbling idiot who doesn’t know. Your child then becomes the capable, competent one
- throwing clothes at your child running away. If the clothes hit them, they have to put them on.
#9 IGNORING US / UNCOOPERATION
- Again, anything that helps you to reconnect.
- Also trying to connect with your child in a way that they still cooperate. E.g. picking up something off the floor which they dropped. You could play with them and, as has been the case with my daughter, pick them up and playfully carry them upside down so they can pick it up and put it in the bin.
- Doing jobs together is a great way to foster cooperation. Playfully or just companionably. Putting on a song they love really loud. Doing it in a silly way.
- pleading with your child to talk with you. So you’re in the weaker position and you’re begging them to talk with you. PPPPPLLLEEEAAASSSSEEEE!!!
- where’s Jonny?! I can’t see him anywhere
Be careful not to be seen as mocking. But you’ll usually either get a hint of a smile, in which case you’ll know you’re on the right track. Or you’ll be met with upset feelings, which shows you they need to be listened to (as described next week in Week 3!
#10 SCARED OF MONSTERS
This is such a natural progression as their imaginations become more vivid and they are exposed to more through books, TV & friends.
We can become v frustrated as it’s so evident there aren’t monsters around, and we can try to reason & provide rational explanations about why they don’t exist.
Addressing the issue at a different time to when they become scared of the monsters is really helpful - i.e. during the day rather than at nighttime in the dark. It shows how powerful these simple games are in shifting fears. It is also comfortably removed from the situation when they are afraid.
- Pretend to be a ‘scary monster’ and start to playfully chase after your child. Then dramatically fall over as you get close. You need to be the least scary monster possible! So much so that your child then wants to turn around and get you!
- When your child tries to get you, dramatically play up on how scared the ‘scary monster’ is and run away to hide, allowing yourself to be caught and over-powered by your child.
#11 SCARED OF DOCTORS / MEDICAL PROCEDURES
This is such a common issue, especially as we often only go to the Dr when something is wrong, and often the procedure is painful, such as vaccination jabs. Or we need to administer medication such as eye drops or medicine on a repeated basis which your child may well resist.
So the key here is to help your child feel confident and dominant within the playful game, as having medical procedures often leads us feeling very powerless and vulnerable.
- you pretending to be a silly Dr who doesn't know where things go
- they have a pretend syringe and chase after you to give you jabs. You are really scared and can't get away. your child gets you and jabs you lots, and you playfully sound like you're in pain - e.g. boy with eye drops
- child holds a toy Dr / nurse and chases after you and vice versa
#12 SCARED OF DOGS
Dogs, in particular, can be scary for kids so their fears are really valid. But instead of either trying to jolly your child into liking them, or always keeping your child away from them, play helps you to address the fear head on in a really enjoyable, non-threatening way.
- At home, give your child a toy dog to chase after you. You playfully & dramatically act scared - but not too scared otherwise this will compound your child’s fears!
- if your child finds the toy dog too scary, you could use a more innocuous animal such as their teddy bear
- pretending the toy dog is scared of everything, particularly your child
- being with your child when you’re near a friendly dog that’s pretty calm and still. Being your child’s ally. Hold their hand and playfully go as close to the dog as your child is willing to go and then running away again pretending to be scared. And then going back towards the dog, a little bit closer this time, and then running away again pretending to be scared. Repeating this process (a bit like a child approaching the waves at the beach) until your child becomes more & more confident and wants to get closer to the dog. With you being more scared (in a playful way - not in an alarming way!!), your child will gain confidence in being the more confident, powerful one.
#13 BUILDING PHYSICAL CONFIDENCE
Rough & tumble is brilliant for building physical confidence. As our children get older, we touch them less. Physical touch is so important and something that we can often miss having.
- Throwing on the bed
- this obviously depends on how heavy your child is(!), but it’s great fun. And you’re aware of not damaging their back & neck, so you can do it safely. As your child becomes more physically confident, you can then increase the complexity or ‘scariness’ of the moves so they can work on overcoming physical fears.
- Play Fights
- Again, perfect for allowing physical touch and to build physical confidence. So important for boys and for girls.
- Special Time allows your child to work on something which they would be too scared to do on their own. For example, they may steadily increase the height from which they jump. Your loving attention gives them the safe space in which to explore their physical limits and they know that you’ll be there if/when they hurt themselves.
- It’s great to allow our children to test their physical limits in this way. It reduces reckless behaviour and builds their confidence. It’s also a great lesson for us in trusting our kids!
#14 POTTY TRAINING
This is messy(!) and is the place where our children have the ultimate control. We can’t force them to go to the loo and they can ‘rebel’ by holding everything in, which obviously has physical ramifications.
So the more you can do to make this a fun experience the better. Particularly if this has been a source of stress for both of you.
Again, losing your sense of dignity helps here. Poo & wee jokes are always a winner! (even with other adults!)
- If your child is not wanting to do a poo in the potty and is becoming v uptight about it, getting some brown playdoh and turning it into a ‘poo’ is pretty much always guaranteed a laugh.
- You could throw it around at each other, or put it in an obvious place and pretend someone did a poo there.
- You won’t be encouraging your child to poo on the floor, but you will be bringing laughter to an often emotionally-charged topic.
- You could joke about how revolting it would be if Daddy did a poo on the floor, or Granny did a wee on the TV, or the dog pooing in the dinner. It gets your child laughing and then playfully thinking about where’s a helpful place to go and where would be disgusting!