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  • Jo Wildsmith

Playing games or is there more to it?


So, a day out at the water park, what can possibly go wrong??????

When we talk about attachment play we are thinking about this in the long term. This approach to parenting is not just a one time course that changes the lifelong trajectory of a family. This is something that is worked on at every opportunity given. Days out are a perfect opportunity to practice some of these skills to help teach our children the importance of working together as a family, but inevitably they don't always work out as we'd sometimes hope.

As we play we learn about various roles, so in the clip above these pair are clearly enjoying power reversal play, but they clearly understand this could not happen with any other adult or child. There is no way they would even consider pushing a teacher for example, but that is because the rules are very clear for them and they have the level of skills and restraint required to manage those potential urges. They know this play can only happen in the context that is shown because in this moment we have secured a space and time that will allow the organic flow of play to materialise. Now, although I make a lot of noise in this clip, it is my signal that this is ok, we are playing and we are all enjoying this together, but this didn't happen overnight. We've all been on a learning journey to build tolerance to frustration, to have flexible mind sets, to problem solve and work collaboratively. We pick up on each others emotional cues and adjust our behaviour accordingly. This is a very complex set of skills that take time and repetition to become fully established working cogs in family dynamics, and we are forever working on these skills as we grow adapt and change.

I do appreciate not all play looks like this, but I truly believe in most cases it is because children haven't developed the skills needed to tolerate frustration, to explore safely role reversal, they may have very rigid thinking and are miscuing social signals. There are many, many reasons this kind of play may not go well. I know once children are enjoying themselves they may not want the fun to end, so transition out of the water could cause problems. Another very prominent factor is how scary this can be and how much the child wants to enjoy this activity, this play, this connection time with family, but actually their anxieties and fears sabotage the experience. There could be a million fears that are all logical to the child but seem irrational to those around the child. Examples may be fears of being abandoned, ridiculed for not being able to climb or jump as high as the adults, feeling unsafe and wobbly underfoot, those physical wobbles can cause our mind to wobble, it could be a fear of not being rescued, or not fully trusting those around them. Have no doubt that your child will want to enjoy this activity with you, they will want to 'do the right thing', they want to be happy and make you proud but something maybe standing in their way. Children will do well if they can. Children never choose to misbehave because they simply do not want to do something, they misbehave because they are struggling, maybe lack of skill or experience or confidence, and it is definitely not our job to make them want to do it. Just imagine you are at work, you have a role as a computer technician and your boss comes along and says 'this afternoon you'll be working in the finance department and if you don't do it then I'm not paying you this month'!!!! Well unless you have several degrees in those specialised areas, I'm guessing you'll have very little experience or skill set to move into the finance department without the relevant training. The mere suggestion may provoke anxiety about not being good enough, fear of survival as you will not be able to provide food or shelter for your family, it could spiral thoughts, emotions and behaviours into unprecedented grounds.

You see, traditional discipline is orientated in making children do what we want them to do, so we use rewards, sanction, punishment, time outs, detentions, etc, assuming that the challenging behaviour is simply because they don't want to do something. But what would our behaviours look like if as adults we were pushed out of our comfort zones especially in public where society is watching and expecting us to adhere to those requests and we simply do not possess the skill set.

Our children need our time and patience, they need to learn at their pace skills that enable them to achieve desired goals. Children are not dumb or lazy because they are disobeying our requests, if anything they are the ones trying their hardest to please and are suffering greatly, fears that are well established and painful. Children who have already established these skills don't have to try so hard. They seem to naturally turn their hand to most things, and are praised for how well they are doing. Meanwhile those that are labelled dumb and lazy have the message reinforced over and over until they become that which name is given. This is why when we praise we always praise effort and not the end result.

Just for example, going back to the water park, one child found it incredibly easy to clamber to the top of the iceberg and jump, then the next child didn't find it so easy. Who put in more effort? Definitely the child that found it more difficult conquered fears, and developed a sense of self efficacy.

When adults shift their thinking about the whys in children's behaviour, amazing things happen. If we can use opportunities to problem solve with our children, if we can practice this to help develop those skills, if adults and children work collaboratively to problem solve, amazing things happen.

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