All posts by The Attached Family

Baby Signing a Practical Way of Communicating

By Jamie Birdsong Nieroda, attachment parenting leader (API of Suffolk County-Long Island, New York, USA)

I was never one of those people, pre-kids, who romanticized parenting. I worried instead about how my baby and I would communicate and how I would deduce from her cries the action required to meet her needs.

My sister had used some basic baby signs with my niece Dakota, teaching her to sign “more” and “milk,” but the significance of this seemingly simple form of communication didn’t hit home until one afternoon when my sister was trying to help Dakota fall asleep by giving her a backrub. When she stopped, Dakota sat up and signed “more.”

I was fascinated by how she had extrapolated a sign previously used only to request more food to ask for more massage. In that moment, I realized the potential that signing had for a deeper level of communication.

We’ve used it twice now, with two different approaches, both times with success, connection, and unimaginable delight. It allowed our sweet ones to communicate their needs and interests while providing us with ever-amazing glimpses into their complex minds. With each sign, it was evident that our recognition and understanding of their communication gave a sense of confidence to our preverbal children as well as showed them we were interested in what they had to say. I’ve come to realize that it is not only helpful in understanding my baby’s basic needs but has opened up a rich and ever-rewarding vehicle of sharing my child’s excitement for the world.

When our firstborn, Aviv, was about six months old, we began showing her a couple baby signs, following the advice in Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. At eight months, Aviv signed “flower” for the first time and began to use it to point out flowers everywhere. A week later, I sat nursing Aviv in my in-law’s home where we had been staying for an extended visit. We had talked often about the vase of silk flowers sitting on our room’s dresser. I sniffed loudly to clear my nose. Aviv stopped nursing immediately and turned to look at the bouquet. She smiled and signed “flower” and then laughed. This was our first adorably brilliant signing miscommunication, opening the door for more communication: “You thought when I cleared my nose I was talking to you about the flowers! My nose is stuffed up and I need to blow it, so I was sniffing.”

At 10 months, Aviv began signing “dog.” The first time she used the sign, we were taking an evening stroll and she “commented” on the incessant barking of a neighborhood dog. She began signing “dog” to communicate about anything related to our pooch, like when she played with Maya’s leash or passed her water bowl. “Milk,” “eat,” “fan,” and “hat” soon followed. We were amazed at how much of the world she understood without our full comprehension minus this under-used communication device. When, compelled by our own fascination, we would note to a stranger that she was signing “water” because she saw a river in a painting, the question inevitably asked was if she was deaf. Most people have never heard of baby signing. One friend commented that our babies seemed so aware, and what we were learning is that they all are in degrees both staggering and easily discovered with American Sign Language (ASL).

Baby Signing with Aviv

Aviv was signing five signs at one year old when my husband’s boss told him how her daughter had been slow to talk and that learning to communicate through sign language had decreased her frustration and limited tantrums. She offered to loan a video series called Signing Time to us if we were interested. I hesitated as I wanted Aviv to be media-free, yet I also recognized the value and impact of sign language not only on her ability to communicate but also on our relationship with her. She was no longer unable to communicate what she saw. For instance, when she was 11 months old, I had my hair wrapped in a towel. Aviv signed “hat,” which gave me the insight needed to explain, “Yes, this towel goes on my head just like a hat does. I put a towel on my head to dry my hair some before I brush it.”

When Aviv was 12 months old, we were driving along in the car and she pointed out the window and signed “tree.” As we talked about the newly leafed trees, she signed “gentle” and “flower,” identifying our past discussions of being gentle with flowers and allowing me to link all of these thoughts together. At 14 months, she signed “potty” emphatically as I pulled the trashcan down to the curb. I looked around, knowing there was a clear reason if I could discover it. Our dog was peeing on the lawn behind me, so we got a laugh together and I told her, “Yes, Maya sure is going potty! We go inside on the toilet, but she waits until she is outside to pee in the grass.” So many conversation-starters and continued language acquisition began through our children’s ability to allow us to enter their world with a reference point. Continue reading

Celebrate Your Toddler’s “No!”

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

I walked into the kitchen and discovered my two-year-old blonde-haired daughter, dressed in her little pink fleece sleeper with the padded feet, standing on top of the chair next to the counter.  She was preoccupied with dipping her fingers into the butter bowl and then into the sugar bowl before they headed into her waiting mouth. When she saw me enter the kitchen, a potential threat to her wonderful activity, she formed a very concise pointed finger at me, and firmly delivered “No!” at my astonished expression.

“No!” It’s probably the most commonly used word in toddlerhood! It flies out of our children’s mouths before they even have time to really think about what they are saying “no” to.

When my five children were young, they were allowed to say “no” as much as they wanted to. I would always try to respect their “no” as much as I could within the parameters of the particular situation, and especially in circumstances such as when they didn’t want to be tickled by me or didn’t want to hear me sing or didn’t want to be kissed by Grandma or didn’t want to share their prized possessions. I think “no” is an important word for asserting their feelings and desires and, unless it is a matter of safety, they have the right to have their opinion listened to and respected. Here is why children should be allowed to say “no”:

  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is three and her daddy might want to put her in the front seat and not the carseat because it is less hassle.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is five and her little five-year-old friend might want her to cross a busy street without an adult.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is nine and her uncle might want to touch her in her private places.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 12 and her friends might want her to steal a candy bar from the grocery store.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 14 and her friends might bully a fellow student.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 15 and a friend’s drunk parent might want to drive her home from a sleepover party.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 16 and her boyfriend might want to “show” her how much he loves her.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 18 and her buddies might want her to try some “ecstasy.”

So, when she is two years old, my daughter can practice saying “no” as much as she needs to. And I won’t take it personally.

What Happens to the Brain When We “Lose It”

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and attachment parenting leader (API of Portland, Oregon USA)

Learning neuroscience isn’t something every parent has time for, so Dr. Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell, authors of Parenting from the Inside Out, developed a simple and surprisingly accurate model of the brain that parents can make with their own hands, which helps us understand what goes on in there. When we know what’s going on in our children’s brains (and in our own), we are better able to respond sensitively and appropriately when emotions run strong.

Make a fist with your thumb tucked inside your fingers. This is the model of your brain; your fist is the brain, and your wrist and forearm are the spinal cord, carrying nerve impulses to the rest of your body.

The bottom of your palm is the brainstem. This is where the brain connects to the spinal cord and is where our instinctive behavior and involuntary functions are regulated. The brain stem controls things like breathing, heart rate, hunger, digestion, body temperature, etc. It is our basic, “primitive” brain.

Your thumb, tucked in the middle of your fist, is the midbrain. This is where our emotions and memories are created and processed, as well as where the fight-or-flight reflex is triggered. The midbrain is our “emotional brain.”

The back of your hand and fingers, encasing everything, is the cerebral cortex. This is where higher functioning occurs. This part of our brain allows us to think logically, act with kindness and empathy, and it houses our reasoning and problem-solving abilities. The cortex is our “rational brain.” It is in this part of a child’s brain that Attachment Parenting has a profound impact.

The brain is structured to communicate. It sends messages from section to section within itself about what our bodies are feeling and needing. When a child screams, “No!” and lashes out to hit because he is angry, a parent’s brain interprets this data as, “Hmm, I don’t like this, and I need to be treated differently.” Only we don’t always react so calmly, right?

Take another look at your brain-fist. See where your fingernails are? That’s the prefrontal cortex, the very front part of your brain that sits behind your eyebrows. This is where logic and reasoning originates. It’s the part of the brain that kicks into gear when we have a problem to solve. Now, sometimes the emotional brain (thumb) and the rational brain (fingers) don’t communicate so well. The emotions of the midbrain are simply too overwhelming, our fight-or-flight reflex triggers, and we “flip our lids.” Now make all four of your fingers stand straight up. Flip.

Of course, our brains don’t actually change shape like this, but this simple demonstration is a valuable tool in understanding how our brains function during emotionally charged situations. See your fingertips now? See how far away from the midbrain they are? When we “flip our lids,” our rational brains have a very poor connection with our emotional brains. Our feelings are intense, and we’re not able to access the logical, problem-solving part of our brain. We need to calm our anger and ease our fears in order to restore our rational brain to its coherent state (close fingers over thumb again).

Children and adults alike experience a flipped lid. But as the human brain isn’t fully mature (that is, all parts communicating effectively) until sometime between 21 and 30 years old, children flip their lids much more often. They need a lot more help “re-connecting” the prefrontal cortex with the midbrain; that is, calming down and learning how to respond to strong emotions.

Here are a few tools taken from Jane Nelsen’s “52 Positive Discipline Tool” Cards that help during “flipped lid” moments:

  • Hugs – When your child flips her lid, a hug may be the last thing you want to offer. But it might be the thing she needs most. The mirror neurons in her brain are hard-wired to assess the emotional state of the people around her and influence how she’ll react. When her brain picks up on the loving composure in a hug, its chemistry begins to return to a calm state. If your child is not ready for a hug when she’s immediately upset, just let her know you’re available and would love a hug when she is ready. See what happens!
  • Focus on Solutions – This is for when you’re about to flip your lid. Yes, there’s a huge mess on the floor. Yes, your two-year-old is bothering his older (and now very annoyed) sibling again. Yes, someone lost an important item again, or someone else is dawdling to get ready…again. But rather than get mad and yell (again), focus on practical solutions to these problems. Instead of thinking, “What can I to do to get through to you?” think, “What can I do to help you succeed with this? What solutions can we come up with?”
  • Positive Time Out – This is perfect for when either you or your child has a flipped lid. Before addressing your child, take a positive timeout for yourself to calm down and restore your brain chemistry. The problem—the one that triggered your flipped lid—will still be there, ready to be addressed when you’re feeling better. With time and practice, you can also teach your child how and when to take a positive time-out for himself, so he can learn how to calm down before doing or saying anything inappropriate.

As emotionally responsive parents, we help our children develop efficient communication between their emotional brains and their rational brains, though this is not easy! In the face of a highly emotional “flipped lid” (our own or our child’s), it is most helpful if we remember that the reaction is not personal or purposeful; it’s simply the normal result of our brain chemistry and just needs some loving restoration.

Connecting with Older Children during Pregnancy

By Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, contributing editor to The Attached Family

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wrote in my journal nearly every day about what I felt and the changes I was experiencing. Once a week, I went to a prenatal yoga class and I listened to special meditations to connect with my baby. If I wasn’t at work or caring for the home, I used to just lie down and feel my baby sweep her elbows and knees across my belly.

Pregnancy with my second child brought an entirely different experience. In nine months, I went to one yoga class, took my older child to my prenatal visits with me, and had an extra set of hands on my belly whenever the baby kicked. And while I enjoyed the few moments before I slept, feeling the baby alone, my prime focus during pregnancy was to prepare my older child for the arrival of a new sibling.

Knowing that the nine months of pregnancy before baby’s arrival would be my last nine months of parenting a single child, I tried, like all mothers of second babies, to include my older child in preparations for the baby in a way that made her feel valuable and important.

When parents find out they will be expecting a second child, they often wonder when and how to tell their first. Experts agree that the way in which parents tell their older child the news depends on the child’s age. The nine months before baby’s arrival may be an abstract idea for a younger child that doesn’t quite understand time; in this case, it sometimes helps to connect the birth to a holiday near which the baby should arrive.

A preschooler or kindergarten-aged child is bound to ask where babies come from. A child this age doesn’t necessarily want to know about sex but about where in the body the baby literally comes from. “The baby comes from the mommy’s uterus,” might be a good answer, especially if a parent has access to a developmentally appropriate, illustrated book about the body. A family’s religious or other values might lead to another response entirely; what matters most is that the answer be respectful and genuine.

When parents decide to tell their child about the new baby may depend on a past history of miscarriage. Some families may decide to wait until the second trimester, while others may not be able to contain their excitement and decide to tell their older child immediately.

During pregnancy, maintaining a strong bond with the older child is crucial. It may seem like everybody outside the home is focused on the mother’s belly and will constantly ask the older child what he thinks about having a new baby brother or sister, which may make the older child feel excluded or replaced. To keep an older child feeling important, spend ample time focused on him as an individual, rather than as a big brother-to-be. Spend time each day doing activities the child enjoys, like trips to the park or pool, family game time, and art projects. By allowing an older child to have time with Mom and Dad, doing the things he enjoys without talking about the baby, parents will maintain their child’s sense of his vital and valuable role in the family.

To lay the foundation for a loving relationship between siblings, parents can include their older child in preparations for the baby. Kids may have fun choosing potential names for the baby, picking out furniture and clothing, and helping assemble toys and furniture.

In order to prepare an older child for the shift to life with an infant, parents and their older children can look through pictures of the older child as a baby or go through her baby book. Talk to the child about special memories, silly things he did or said as a baby, how happy his mother and father were and still are to have him. It may also make the transition easier if parents talk about the attention a new baby needs, and if parents show pictures of the older child as a baby having a bath or snuggling with Mom or Dad, she can see how fun and tender life with a new baby can be.

Most bookstores and libraries have books about becoming a big brother or sister that can help a child understand what he or she can expect, such as The Big Sibling Book: Baby’s First Year According to ME by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby or The Berenstain Bears Baby Makes Five by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain, and Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes. There are also big-brother and big-sister journals in which the child can draw pictures for his sibling and record his hopes for the fun games they can play together and what he wants to teach his little brother or sister to do. Kids may even enjoy assembling their own journals or scrapbooks from scratch.

Once the baby arrives, older siblings often enjoy helping to change diapers and give baths. Other children may prefer to have their own “baby,” a doll or animal that they diaper, bathe, and carry in a sling. There will, of course, be times when the older child asks Mom or Dad for something when the parent must feed the baby or change a particularly dirty diaper. At these times, parents should avoid saying that they will help the older child after they have helped the baby; instead, something like, “When I have a free hand in just a minute, I will help you,” may prove a more acceptable answer to an anxious older child.

There will be times, too, when the family must wait for the baby to wake up before going on an outing. In this case, blame the wait on an expected phone call or urgent load of laundry rather than on the baby’s nap. In the meantime, play a game the child enjoys, draw a picture, or bake cookies; after all, naptime may be the only time of day when an older child can have Mom or Dad all to herself.

Many parents of only children wear the baby in a sling to keep the baby close and content. When parenting an older child and a younger one, wearing a sling or carrier becomes all the more essential, because the parent can then have her hands free to push the older child on the swing or help him tie his shoes. And having children who feel happy and loved is all a parent can ask for.

Breastfeeding on Demand is OK

By Ashley Franz, attachment parenting leader (API of Central Arkansas, USA)

Once upon a time, there was a magical land where babies never cried…

A couple of friends asked me lately how to avoid running low on, or running out of, milk when breastfeeding. My answer is: Quit scheduling. Easy as pie. Yet, why is it so hard for us?

I am reading this totally inspiring book called Simplicity Parenting, and it’s all about eliminating all the clutter from our lives that causes us to run on such a cram-packed, tight schedule. I think the book is meant for those with older kids in school, with extra-curricular activities, computers, video games, TV, etc. But even with tiny kids who stay at home, it still applies because it’s hard not to pack things and activities in and get obsessed with our “routine” and our “schedule,” because we think that’s what we are supposed to do, because our society values punctuality and order so highly and we are used to having it, so it makes us comfortable.

At my daughter’s first doctor’s visit, this old man pediatrician who has seen about a zillion kids in his career, did all of the usual stuff, then sat down at his laptop to enter the information. (Poor guy…switching to electronic records in his late 60s has to be frustrating!) He is getting quicker now, but still just learning how to use the new program.

He asked, “Breastfed or Formula?”

I said, “Breast.”

He said, “How often?”

Me, “I don’t know.” Continue reading

The Invisible Bond Not Limited to Parents

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifecenter.org.il

Ricki was in trouble again with her first-grade substitute teacher, this time for accidentally spilling water on her desk. She missed her regular teacher who was on a four-month leave of absence after giving birth. Ever since the new teacher came, Ricki hated school. She was sure the teacher didn’t like her — for forgetting her homework one day, for not paying attention another day, and now for spilling water on the desk. She returned home each day, filled with foul frustration, which erupted in attacking her younger brother, taunting her older sister, and talking back to her parents.

She counted the days until her real teacher would return to teach the class. She was so excited with anticipation that she prepared a folder from an empty cereal box and decorated it with foil paper and stickers. Then she drew some pictures, wrote her teacher a letter, and put these in the folder. On the morning her teacher was to return, Ricki got up extra early and carefully got dressed and brushed her hair. She wanted to look her best for her teacher. She also wanted to make sure to be at school early.

There she was, the teacher, standing at the head of the stairs. When she turned around and saw Ricki at the end of the hallway, her face lit up into a big smile and she stretched her arms out wide to Ricki. Ricki, too, smiled and ran as fast as she could into the inviting arms of her teacher.

What magic did the teacher possess that drew Ricki to her,that commanded her attention and brought out in Ricki the desire to please her? It’s called attachment energy, and it works like a magnet. The teacher knew intuitively how to collect Ricki and activate the deep attachment instinct that is meant to connect a child to the caring adults who are responsible for her. It is an invisible bond that creates an irresistible attraction that is felt but not seen. It is what we all long for, children and adults alike.

But children need it even more because they are not yet mature enough to exist without it. They cannot learn without this invisible connection. Children of elementary school age, and even many high school students, have not yet developed enough independent thinking, personal goals, or maturity to sustain the effort needed to achieve these goals. They are still of the age when they do the bidding of adults in order to fulfill their attachment needs. It is so important that these needs be met if children are to develop the mature independence and social responsibility we long to see in them. Ricki loves and wants to please her teacher, because her teacher smiles at her and takes delight in seeing her. Her teacher gives her the generous invitation to come into her arms and exist in her presence. Her teacher knows how to collect her with her eyes, smile, warmth, and making Ricki feel special. Ricki can feel that her teacher loves her. Continue reading

Pregnancy Fun (and Mocktails)

By Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, Pregnancy Editor

As your body changes during pregnancy, the activities you used to enjoy may be off limits. You may not be able to drink your morning coffee, have sushi for lunch, or indulge in a glass of wine with dinner. And a pregnant woman can forget about roller coasters, riding a bicycle, or skiing. Yet, while it may be difficult to give up favorite activities and food, you can find fun in different and new ways.

Women who were athletic before pregnancy may find it challenging to scale back their exercise routines. While light jogging and weight resistance are generally doctor-approved, swimming, walking, and yoga may prove a welcome change for a heavier belly and sore joints. Not only do such classes keep a mother fit in a safe way, but they also offer an opportunity to bond with other women and share the joys and challenges of carrying a child. It is important to make sure, however, that the instructor has had plenty of experience working with pregnant women.

Those who enjoy the arts and writing may like keeping a journal or creating a scrapbook about the pregnancy. A journal allows you to keep track of your changing body and emotions, special memories, hopes and dreams for the baby, daydreams, and feelings. A scrapbook can gather together the mementos of pregnancy. Birthing From Within by Pam England guides the mother-to-be through drawing, painting, and sculpting activities that encourage the woman to use visual arts to examine the feelings that may seem beyond verbalization about birth and her baby. These fun prompts provoke thought and engage the mind.

You could plan a picnic or day trip for yourself, with your spouse, or with family and friends. A potluck picnic takes the pressure off the planner and allows everyone to enjoy the fresh air, food, and company. If it’s too hot or rainy for a picnic, BabyCenter.com recommends “an indoor visit to a museum, art gallery, or cultural exhibition where you can spend some time in air-conditioned comfort. Even a trip to a mall you have wanted to visit, followed by lunch at the food court, can be a welcome break.”

If you are like many women who do not live in the same city or state as their mothers, pregnancy can be a wonderful time to reconnect. You can talk about your progress, compare food cravings, and make guesses about whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. Sharing this experience can bring you closer to your mother and bring out some humorous and heart-warming stories.

Once the baby is born, it can be hard to believe how much your belly expanded. A plaster belly cast can be a beautiful way to capture the true size of your belly in a way no photo could. You could also commission an artist to sketch or paint your picture or a photographer to take lovely and artistic professional photos. These mementos will be fun to look back on and share with your child as he grows.

Because pregnant women must avoid certain foods and drinks during pregnancy, you may feel left out when others order cocktails. When out with friends, you could request your favorite drink be made “virgin,” or you could order one of the following non-alcoholic mocktails:

Shirley Temple

6 ounces ginger ale

1 1/2 tsp. grenadine

Garnish: orange slice and/or maraschino cherry

Pour ginger ale over crushed ice, top with grenadine, garnish, and serve. For a Roy Rogers, substitute caffeine-free cola for the ginger ale. Continue reading

Creating a Village

By Jenni Pertuset, parent consultant, API Leader in Seattle, Washington USA, http://apiseattle.org

The life of a parent can feel very isolated. Warm relationships with caring adults can sustain us when we’re struggling and help our children feel at ease when they’re away from home. So, how do we build the village we need to raise our children?

What is a Village?

My working definition of a “village” is that it is a connected community of caring adults who support us in nurturing our relationships with our children. A village isn’t just a set of friends. It is those friends, neighbors, extended family members, and acquaintances who, whether it’s intentional or even knowing, help deliver us as a parents to our children. We are of course not just recipients of support, but full participants, offering our caring and support to others.

Principles

Building a village requires effort and persistence. It is rare to stumble into a ready-made community where you are and feel immediately welcome. Even in inclusive and inviting organizations, it takes reaching out, showing up frequently, extending invitations repeatedly, and having patience.

It also requires vulnerability. This is apparent in the effort itself — extending ourselves and making invitations that may not be accepted can be challenging. And the challenge doesn’t end once we’ve established relationships, either. Opening our homes and our lives to other people also opens our heart to hurts, but we can hardly find genuine relationships without that willingness.

Building a strong village also requires accepting differences. While we’re all looking for people who share our values or who are otherwise like us, true community allows for diversity, where our connection is deeper than our similarities. (Although there is of course a point at which we will not sacrifice our values for the sake of connection.) Continue reading

Reflections on Motherhood

By Barbara P. Benjamin, poet and author of Beneath the Surface (as Barbara Scott), children’s author of One White Christmas in Alabama and My Best Friend Millie

I am the mother of a 26-year-old daughter. I received a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Auburn University in 1979. While my daughter was young, I happily chose to be a stay-at-home mother. When the school days arrived, I became a substitute teacher in the local school system where my daughter attended.

Homeward Bound
By Barbara P. Benjamin

Why, they ask, do you stay at home,

Where no one pays you, where you remain unknown?

Why, they ask, do you waste your degree,

In this world of ours, where knowledge is the key?

It opens the door to success…so they say,

As they rush out the door, day after day.

Looking in their eyes, face to face,

It’s as if happiness left, without leaving a trace.

Why, they ask, do you waste your degree?

If only, if only…they’d see what I  see.

I was raised in a military family. My father was a General and his career took him away from the family unit a lot. In this regard, my mother was my major hands-on parent on a day-to-day basis. She was (is) my complete role model from the feminine side of things. She is 88 and still my very best friend.

My family was (is) everything to me. As an Army brat, you move all the time. The only “constant” in your life is your family. You’re always the “new kid,” so the first friends you have in your new environment are always your own family. My parents were always there for me emotionally and physically (except where the job prevented my father from doing so).

I learned love and nurturing from day one. Our home was always peaceful and loving. There was no shouting or spanking. Friends were always welcome.

My mother was there 24/7…before school, after school, etc. I was a priority, and I felt very secure in that fact. She was a great homemaker and provided a warm “nest” time and time again, with each move we made. Continue reading

Playful Parenting with Older Children and Teens

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and attachment parenting leader (API of Portland, Oregon USA)

Young children play effortlessly. Kids are naturally predisposed to play, and it doesn’t take much to engage a child in a silly game or role-play. Through play, kids express feelings, needs, thoughts, and ideas that they might not yet have the words to articulate. Playing together lets parents connect and communicate with kids beyond a conversation and provides insight into their world.

But how does playtime change as kids get older? How can parents adapt their approach to playful parenting after kids outgrow the desire to get silly, wrestle, and pretend? How can we achieve the same results with our teenagers that we can by playing “tickle monster” with our toddlers?

Emily Troper is an early childhood educator, a founder of Continuum Learning Community in Portland, Oregon USA, and an attached mom who says that play is a big part of her family’s life. Troper has four children ages 6 to 19, and though she says it can be difficult to find ways to play that suit all of her kids, it is important enough to continue to try. Troper shares some of her family’s insights on how they continue to play together and what playtime looks like in a house with teenagers.

Physical Play

Physical games don’t lose their appeal for kids, but they do become more organized. While young children enjoy the rough-and-tumble play of wrestling, tackling, being tossed, rolled, or carried, older children (and their developing logical brains) enjoy sports, games, and other organized activities. Basketball, golf, tennis, jogging, even air hockey or table soccer all release endorphins and cause players to experience a shared, “feel-good” moment.
Interactive physical activity provides emotionally connecting experiences for parents and kids.

Troper says that despite her children’s wide range of ages, they have discovered several games that they all enjoy. She says, “We love the sock game from Larry Cohen’s book [Playful Parenting]. Everyone wears socks and sits on the floor. When we say ‘Go!’ we try to get off the other family members’ socks but keep our own on.” Their family also loves driving go-carts and playing Ping-Pong together.

Verbal Play

As children grow and their brains and language become more developed, jokes are a great way to stay connected. Jokes are interactive, and they keep us thinking and laughing together. A funny joke activates many areas of the brain and releases endorphins when we “get it” and find the humor in it. For Troper’s family, play has become much more verbal as her children have grown older, with mealtimes becoming a new kind of playtime. She says, “We often share funny stories at the dinner table and have a long history of inside jokes.”

Fun Stuff

Besides finding games that the whole family can do together, Troper says it’s equally important to have fun with each of her kids individually. She recommends joining kids in whatever they’re interested. “With my oldest son, we enjoyed watching comedy shows after the younger ones were sleeping and laughing our heads off together.” Whether the activity is playing cards or board games, listening to music, building Legos, or playing laser tag, sharing regular, enjoyable one-on-one time helps parents stay in-tune with their child’s interests and keeps their connection strong.

A Listening Tool

In the early years, play helps express a child’s feelings and is an avenue for parent-child communication. According to Troper, this did not change much as her kids have grown older and outgrown the creative play of early childhood. For her teenagers, playful, enjoyable moments continue to be opportunities for listening to find out what her children might be feeling and needing. She says, “With my oldest son, the pre-teen years were filled with being in the car together in the morning and afternoon. We listened to the music he wanted to listen to and talked about it. It was light and fun, but every so often, deeper subjects would come up and it was a safe space to talk.”

Although parents may not share all of their kids’ interests, taking the time to understand and get involved in them inevitably leads to talking, connecting, and building a trusting relationship. The games may change as kids get older, but the enjoyment of playtime doesn’t end in early childhood. Tweens and teens still like to have fun. They still like to laugh. They still express themselves through their interests. No matter how playtime has evolved, parents can use it as an opportunity to get and stay close to their growing children.