Beyond the Baby B’s: Attachment Through Play

Nothing was easier, more intuitive for me than the Baby Bs: breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding with baby, and so on.  Attachment parenting an infant was simple. Keep that child close, and all is well. But then what? When a child becomes mobile, become verbal, thing are suddenly so much more complicated. Sure, many of the principles of attachment parenting still apply, but they become a moving target…moving at the whirlwind speed of toddlers and preschoolers.

Research shows that I’m obviously not the only one that has struggled with this. In The Science of Parenting, Margot Sunderland explains:

Research shows that societies and families rich in warm physical affection have far fewer problems with anger and aggression, yet in some families there is a steep drop in cuddles and physically playful times after babyhood. This is followed by another steep drop after age five, and then another one when their children reach adolescence. There is a natural moving away from parent in adolescence, but this can start much earlier in parent-child relationships starved of physical attention.

A lot of people are fortunate enough to be able to stay home with their kids when they are young, but as a child gets older the chances of them being sent to day care or to school increases. There seems to be a diminished acceptance of physical closeness in those types of institutions, which means that children may go starved for true affection and connection for much of the day, making the time they do have with their parents all the more important for maintaining a strong connection and sense of security.

But they are busy.

Too busy to hug.

Too busy to cuddle.

Too busy to get lost in your eyes.

Too independent to hold your hand.

Too proud to cry on your shoulder.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once our children leave the sling, the breast, and the family bed, one of the best ways that we can connect with them emotionally and physically is through play. This is the main premise of the book Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, that I’m going to post a review of in a few days. From the initial games of peek-a-boo, to hide and go seek, to tickle fights and roughhousing, from Barbie (yes Barbie) and guns (yes guns), there are ways that parents can use those games as opportunities to connect with their kids.

Two of the favorite connection games in our house right now are the tickle tunnel and running hug. In the tickle tunnel, I stand up and make a tunnel by spreading my legs apart. My kids run through the tunnel and get tickled on their way through. They scream with joy and it gives us a chance to connect. With the running hugs, tired Mommy sits on the floor after a long day at work and the kids come running at me from the other end of the hallway and crash into my arms with a big hug, sometimes knocking me over in the process. These types of games give them a chance to be active, but give us a chance to connect at the same time.

I think one of the intuitive mistakes parents often make (myself included sometimes) is to restrict play as a punishment for bad behaviour (“stop hitting your sister or we won’t play ball later“)  or to offer play as a reward (“sit still through dinner and we can play snakes and ladders before bed“). But what gets missed with those approaches is that the undesirable behaviour, the acting up, often comes from a lack of connecting play opportunities and if we remove even more play time as a repercussion of acting up, then the behaviour will only get worse, not better.You see, play gives children an opportunity to experience power, to build their confidence, to act out feelings, to connect, and to connect some more. Those are all things that will help them feel better about themselves and improve their behaviour.

My new motto: When in doubt, PLAY!

This post is part of the Carnival of Play that I am hosting on PhD in Parenting from April 1 to April 15, 2009. Come play with us!

3 thoughts on “Beyond the Baby B’s: Attachment Through Play”

  1. Play is so important! It is so easy to be ‘bummed’ with all that is going on in the world and with the economy. We (my hubby and I) just caught ourselves whining last night about how we won’t be able to afford to take the kids to ‘this fun place’, or ‘that museum’, this spring because of finances. Our five year old chimed in and matter-of-factly said “we can just take a walk, or play tag, or play hide-and-seek.” Out of the mouths of babes! When we see the world through their eyes, we can see how simple it is to be the parents they need us to be.

  2. Great post! Older children need love through touch and quality time just as much as they do when they are babies; family play time is a great way to fill their emotional needs! 🙂

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