Life is pretty busy and chaotic when raising children. When things get hectic, we often struggle to juggle all the demands of family life: keeping our children healthy and safe, juggling study, work, school, appointments, running a household, extracurricular activities and showing up where you need to be on time.
Children need time and a whole lot of energy. It’s not enough to be merely physically present with them. Children are intuitive. They’ll notice if your mind is elsewhere and you’re spending time with them half-heartedly. If you want to truly fulfill your child’s emotional needs, you need to practice being mindful, present, connected and engaged.
In today’s post, we’ll suggest a few playful activities you can share with your child so that you can connect with them in a meaningful and deeper way…to truly refill both your connection cups. These activities will also help your child develop a well-integrated brain (for more on that see our previous blog), emotional intelligence, reduce anxiety, improve connection, act as a buffer to the stress and pressure in their lives and build confidence and a positive self-concept.
Nurture activities decrease anxiety and boost self-esteem as they allow the child to be truly seen, felt, heard, and understood. The child realises that they’re worthy of care and that they can count on their caregivers for that.
Nurture activities are very simple and usually involve skin-to-skin contact. Like we mentioned in a previous blog, ‘Befriending our brain’s chemicals’, physical contact helps our body release the bonding chemical, Oxytocin. So, these activities are ideal for building a trusting relationship with your child.
- Lotion hands: Put lotion on each other hands and massage them whilst you share about the day. To make it more fun, play thumb wars afterward (let your child have a sense of winning!).
- Guess the shape: Take turns drawing something with your fingers on each other’s back (letter, number, shape) and then try to guess what it is.
- M&M’s emotion game: This will probably be everyone’s favourite! Match a different feeling to each M&M colour, e.g. blue for sadness, yellow for jealousy, etc. They pick one m&m without peeking and before they eat it, they must talk about an experience that made them feel angry, happy, sad, etc.
Self-expression is essential to building emotional intelligence and empathy. Children explore alternative reactions to stimuli and events, therefore developing adaptability, pro-social, and communication skills. Self-expression also promotes whole-brain integration, as children are required to use both their creative brain and their cognitive skills for these activities.
- Funny walks: Pretend you’re an animal, an old lady, a kangaroo, etc. and do funny walks together around the house! This is great to do when encountering resistance on transition tasks eg getting out the door, going to bed etc
- Emotions charades: Act out an emotion and the child has to guess it. Or you can ask them to act out an emotion, defining the level of intensity with a number from 1-10. For example, you can say act out surprised 8 (very surprised) or angry 3 (a little angry).
- Can you keep a straight face challenge: Try to stay serious while the other one is making funny faces at you.
Sensory integration activities
These types of activities link sensory inputs to language and expression, helping the child reconnect to their body, better identify their feelings, and improve self-regulation. They also help with emotional intelligence and whole brain integration (healthy brain wiring).
- Body scan: Ask the child to lay down and notice how their feet and other body parts feel. Are they cold from the floor? Are they tense or relaxed? This activity is part of a mindfulness meditation routine. For more mindful activities read our blog on child mindfulness.
- Mystery bag: Now they need to close their eyes and identify different objects. It doesn’t have to be just through touch. You can ask them to smell a rose, taste a raisin, etc. Reflect on what they notice in detail.
- Igniting the senses: The child explores their five senses as they imagine themselves in certain situations. For example, touch really cold water, hear their favourite song, smell chocolate cake, taste a sour lemon etc.
Rhythmic regulation activities
Rhythmic regulation activities help stabilise the nervous system and increase the window of tolerance to stress. The child gradually feels safer around others and is able to regulate their feelings.
- Balloon tennis: Just keep throwing a balloon to each other, trying to keep it as long as possible in the air counting together which increases sense of connection and attunement. Set goals as to how many serve and return interactions you will aim for.
- Call-and-response drumming or clapping: You play a rhythm with your hands or whatever home-made instrument you can find, like chopsticks. The child must then reproduce the same sound. And then it’s your turn, of course!
- Drawing to different styles of music: This is a very interesting activity. Play some music and ask the child to draw something that describes how they feel when they hear the song. Choose different types of music – fast, slow, different cultures/rhythms etc.
Group challenging activities
How about teaching your child the value of working together as a team?
- Word at a time story: Create a story together starting with one word and adding just one word at a time, taking it in turns to contribute the next word.
- I went shopping: And what did you buy? Each family member adds one more item to the list when it is their turn, and they have to repeat the rest of the shopping items before them. Others help out if someone forgets anything. Eg I went shopping and I bought a carrot, some peas, and a hammer.
We can’t stress enough the importance of adding activities like these into your home connection play routines to help strengthen your connection with your child. Family relationships serve as a model for all future interpersonal relationships. So we’re here to help you make yours as loving, trusting, and connected as possible.