3 Ways Families Can Use Play to Build Connection and Belonging

This week is National Play Therapy Week! During this week, we spend extra time honoring and celebrating the use of play in therapy sessions. The benefits of play do not end in the playroom, though. Throughout the lifespan, play is essential to human growth, development, learning, and building relationships. Research shows that play can help kids build trust, build a sense of self-esteem, teach positive social skills, regulate emotions, encourage positive communication, process trauma, and reduce anxiety. Families can also use play in their daily lives to enjoy one another and build relationships.

1. Make Everyday Tasks Into Games

Sometimes the every day tasks, chores, and duties we have as families become monotonous. Lots of families experience resistance from kids (and maybe parents) when it comes to these tasks. When the dull tasks are turned into games, it provides an opportunity for connection and fun as a family. Maybe you turn cleaning the house into a dance party by turning up your favorite tunes. Folding laundry can be changed into a game about who can find the most sock pairs. Turn picking up toys into a race to see who can put five toys into the basket first.

 

2. Have 15 Minutes Each Day be Reserved for Special Connection Time

Research shows that having just 15 minutes of specially reserved time for parents and children to connect can improve self-esteem, build relationships, and decrease challenging behaviors. During a special connection time, it’s important that parents are completely present – no phones, no distractions. Kids should also be the leaders in what is happening during this special connection time. Does the child want to color? Then color. Do they want to play dolls? Play dolls. Using positive non-verbal communication, eye contact, and being close in proximity will help children feel special and cared for.

 

3. Build Playful Rituals and Routines into Your Day

Rituals are patterns of interactions or special events that have a specific meaning and emphasize connection. For example, a special lullaby that is sung every night can be a ritual. At the dinner table, maybe you always talk about a “rose and a thorn” from the day or a “happy thing and a crappy thing” from the day. Everyone gets to share and everyone listens to one another. Maybe you have a special handshake you use with your child. The important thing is that it has meaning and is done regularly as a part of your family’s relational rhythms.

 

Through intentional, playful, and repetitive relational rhythms, healthy relationship patterns and skills can be developed by people of all ages. Developing these healthy relational rhythms don’t have to be difficult to integrate into your regular, daily life. Enjoy being together by using play within your family!

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