The importance of playing with your child

Recently I have begun working with some young mothers, providing individual outreach arts therapy to them in their homes.  When working with one young mum *Teresa, she revealed how she “used to be a really good mother”.  Her son*Jacob was now 2 years old and due to a history of poor parenting models in Teresa’s early life, she felt she was lacking in knowing what constituted a ‘good mother’.   Teresa felt that as her son grew older she became more disconnected to the experience of motherhood.  She felt too busy with housework, study and general life demands to spend time reading or playing with her son.  When I met Jacob, he was well dressed, clean and of a good weight for his size.  It was obvious that Teresa took good physical care of Jacob.   Teresa described Jacob as “not needing her.”  Teresa’s eyes teared, which demonstrated how deeply she was affected by this aspect of their relationship.

I observed them together over several days and saw first hand how her son was independent – he could feed himself, dress himself and when distressed, could soothe himself. He did not turn to Teresa when upset.  Another thing that was really troubling Teresa was that Jacob would not accept kisses or cuddles from Teresa.   She looked sad and despondent and appeared very eager to try anything to build their relationship.  She was loosing all hope for change for the better.

I discussed with Teresa how the sessions would work.  I would facilitate the sessions, using: play, touch, song, movement and food- in the sessions with Jacob and Teresa as well.

Initially in our first session, Jacob eyed me warily. Teresa was making a cup of tea and I began to build rapport with Jacob by playing a very simple game.   I lay on the ground and engaged in “peek a boo” with Jacob from behind my hands.  Jacob sat on the floor with a blank expression. I continued the  “peek a boo” vocalization coupled with an animated face – wide eyes and a smile .  After a several moments, Jacob smiled.  I returned his smile.  I continued with “peek a boo” until after many repetitions, Jacob began to giggle.

During the next 40 mins of the session, I demonstrated to Teresa how to set limits and provide choices for action (so as to reduce tantrums).  We discussed attachment styles and I described to Teresa how play can be used therapeutically to repair their relationship. Jacob was accepting physical contact from me through the application of lotion to arms and hands, legs and feet and outstretched his arms for me to pick him up and hold him.

Teresa observed my interactions with Jacob, mirrored some play gestures, repeated words of encouragement to Jacob and at the conclusion of our first session, felt more confident of their future.  We will continue to work over the next 15 sessions to develop a stronger parent child-attachment & also develop confidence in Teresa’s ability to deliver loving & gentle parenting.

 Play is a child’s natural language.

Don’t underestimate the power of playing with your child.  A toddlers brain is twice as active as an adult brain.  Your child learns through play using their five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as well as reflected emotion on your face, and the tone and inflection of your voice.

As adults and parents we are “time poor”.  We opt for computer or video games and the TV or DVD’s to occupy our child.  One simple way to increase your child’s development, the parent child relational bond, and your child’s happiness is to incorporate some play into ordinary daily routines.  E.g. Whilst bathing your toddler or child you could make a game by blowing and popping bubbles, or when getting your child dressed, pulling their clothes over their head becomes “peek a boo”.  These games stimulate and increase activity so at bedtime is is important to introduce a game that is relaxing for your child like reading a story or singing a lullaby.

* the names have been changed to protect their identity.



Nyrelle Bade