Tips for finding ways to use play to parent through stress, tantrums, anxiety, and big emotions for kids.
I’m delighted to be able to guest post in this fantastic series. Here is a snapshot of how we try to use play to parent through stress, tantrums, anxiety and big emotions.
Using Play to Parent Through Stress
My son is a very sensitive little soul and usually, any negative sensitivities come out with banshee-like cries and shouts, which quite honestly make me want to smother myself with a pillow! The pitch is just that it shatters my sanity and topped off with an enormous volume I’m often left feeling like I’m rocking in a corner… I’m not, of course.
I’m often frantically (well it feels like it anyway) trying to solve the problem, kiss it better, and make it all go away… failing that, I shout back slowly because it feels like the only way to get through to him [-it’s not], and occasionally failing, I’ll walk away reluctantly to recuperate for a moment or two before going back with a better plan.
My better plan is usually to cuddle and play. This is not fail-safe by any means, but the power of distraction and the wonder of being silly very often gets us both through tricky situations and increasingly brings us out the other side closer together.
Here are some ways to help kids learn about self regulation during these tantrum moments.
I am really interested in and intrigued by play and creative arts therapy, and I think this and my [pre-SAHM] work with children with special needs and autism informs my parenting greatly.
I learned a lot working quite intensively with an autistic boy who self-harmed as his only way of dealing with sensory processing, emotions, and disturbances. I learned techniques and methods to help move through the intense feelings and behaviors, to encourage relaxation, and to help communication when language is often obscured or suppressed.
Of course, as a parent, I regularly forget that I even have these very useful tools and my own emotions and deep love for my children cloud my thinking. But when I am able to see through the haze a bit I use some play ideas to help ease stress, tame tantrums and work through emotions.
- Tickling – breaks the tension and allows us to move past the issue – it also brings us physically close together, leads to a cuddle, and lets us connect. This doesn’t always work though, have to be careful with sensory issues and him not wanting to be touched.
- Throwing a ball – or rolling a ball while we talk – this has only just started to work at 3 and a bit years, too much to think about when he was younger, but the repetition of the action is relaxing, it helps encourage taking turns in conversation, and is a distraction from the initial problem allowing us to step back and work through it.
- Using silly voices – breaks the tension, allows the conversation to start, and defers the emotion to ‘pretend’ characters, which may allow a more open response.
- Singing – I sing silly songs all the time; I just use any tune and sing things like, “Jakey’s being grumpy pants, Jakey’s being grumpy pants, Jakey’s being grumpy pants, I wish he’d tell me why… Jakey’s being a grumpy pants [repeat] … but I still love him lots!” or something like that 😉 Jake normally laughs and comes out of his mood. This one combines well with tickles.
- Put him in the bath – gently, I might add 😉 this one works quite well when Jake’s overtired and heading toward bedtime anyway, but I have done it at other times. The water is warm and therapeutic, the change of environment can break the tantrum/upset and allow conversation, and water provides many opportunities for sensory and imaginative play and relaxation.
Katherine has a background in special education, early years childcare, and has a BA and MA in the creative and performing arts. She writes at Creative Playhouse about her creative play activities Mummyology on parenting and is a stay-at-home mum.
Kim’s “Spin On It”
I must confess that Katherine’s Parenting with Purpose Guest Post arrived in my inbox on the an evening for me when I truly needed to read it and put it into action. I hope it will inspire you to do the same.
That day I had a very frustrating afternoon with both of my girls, yes afternoons can be a little hectic around here with a tired 6 year old with 2nd grade math homework and a 2 year old wanting big sister’s full attention. The older is my sensitive strong-willed one and my younger one is well just a strong willed younger version of her sister. They are both VERY different from their always calm older brother. Every child is different! I really was trying to come up with a plan for what I can do differently so our afternoon together would go more smoothly each day. And not quite as many outbursts or time outs.
These simple tips of using PLAY to handle stress is fundamental in childhood. The next day I made a better plan of things that the girls to incorporate together to work well through play. They had some free play in the backyard with the playground, I added a few extra toys of interest to get them working together. We set aside time for making a painting together with watercolors, perfect for varying ages. I made a point of setting up an afternoon play station with a few handpicked toys each day while big sister did her homework. Afterward we had a little dance party together. We even had a bath early before dinner so that we were happy and ready for a great evening when daddy came home from work.
WHAT a difference those simple steps made in our afternoons. Sometimes planning for opportunities for play can be the best tool for dealing with stress & tantrums with children. It’s normal for child to have tantrums and big emotions when they are young. It’s our job as parents to give them the tools and words for how to react to those feelings.
Thank you so much Katherine for sharing your Snapshot of how you’re handling an issue that happens in everyday life with many children with positive parenting ideas ! I encourage you to check out some other inspiring posts by her on Mummyoly and Creative Playhouse.
Amanda’s “Spin On It”
I second that this strategy came at a time when I needed to be reminded of it. The kids and I are feeling the stress of life this week as their grandparents left after living with us for ten weeks, the dog gets sick, the three year old has night terrors and growing pains and the list goes on and on. But we all have our lists, don’t we?
Some stresses are bigger than others, but we all have them in our lives and this post is such a great reminder of what we, as parents, can do to help support our children’s emotional health. Because sometimes, I tend to forget these important little things during stressful situations, I wrote the word PLAY in big letters on a 3×5 notecard and taped it to my microwave for the week.
I am hoping this little memory trigger will help me remember to use my silly voice, play a game of chase or snuggle with my kids more!
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