This week’s Teaching Kids About Character: An Alphabetic Journey topic is J is for Joyful. When I got thinking about joy and where it comes from, I immediately thought about connection.
On days when my son is cranky, whiny, and demanding or wild, hyper and reckless, I have come to see that these are cries from my child to connect. The times when my son experiences the most joy are the times when we are together, playing and laughing, and somehow in-sync with each other.
Does this sound familiar?
About a year ago, I realized that although I was a stay-at-home-mom and spent all day with my son, there were still times when I’d be tucking him into bed, and we’d be having our nightly chat about what we did that day, and I would realize that we hadn’t really emotionally connected that day.
Sometimes it seemed as if the whole day was taken up with changing diapers, feeding my son, cleaning up after eating, then driving somewhere to do something, then back again to diapers, feeding, cleaning, put him to sleep, and repeat over and over!
I started to wonder how I could fit in more of those precious minutes where we really connected, giggled, played, and felt close.
In reaction to these feelings, I picked up a book by Pam Leo called Connection Parenting. Pam describes her approach as being an extension of the “attachment parenting” theory I often tried to follow when Onetime (my 2.5 year old son) was an infant. This book focuses on ways we can connect with our children and help them feel loved.
Pam uses the analogy of kids having a “love cup” and a “hurts cup.” Kids feel loved and happy (and joyful!) when their hurts cup is empty and their love cup is full. A lot of her suggestions for keeping the hurts cup empty are covered in our E is for Empathy post and F is for Friendly posts.
Today – I am going to focus on ways to fill up your child’s love cup.
Filling the Love Cup
Pam suggests that kids need at least 10 minutes of daily connect time with at least one adult to feel safe, connected, and loved. During this time, your child needs to have your full attention, and to get really connected, your full engagement.
That means PLAY!
If you want to really connect with your kids, I learned that it’s not enough to just take them to the playground and watch them, you need to play with them (that’s the engagement part)! Although it can feel tiresome to play with your kids after a long day, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
I have personally noticed that when I take the time to really get down on my son’s level (usually the floor!) and play with him for a while, letting him control the play and take the lead, he becomes far more cooperative, happy, and easygoing for hours afterwards!
And, although his idea of fun play is not always the same as mine, when I take the time to engage with him doing things that he likes, I start to see all those signs that he is feeling loved: eye contact, smiles, giggles and laughter, and spontaneous hugs and shows of affection!
Taking the time to play with kids really shows that you love them more than anything else you can do or say.
How Can We Take Time to Connect When Life is So Busy?
On that note, I compiled a list of 30 play ideas that are perfect for connecting with your child. Some of these ideas are super-quick and some take a full 10 minutes or more. Although nothing can replace having a large quantity of time to spend with your child, the quality of the time spent can definitely make a difference to your connection with your child!
With all of these play ideas, the most important thing to remember is to give your child your full attention, and be engaged with them. As Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting puts it, you need to be “tuned in” to your child’s needs and wants. That usually means getting down on the floor with them and meeting them at their level.
It also means following their lead, joining them in “their world”, letting them control and direct the pace of the play, and relaxing and having fun while being in the moment with your child. Many of these play ideas also incorporate physical touch – one of the forms of engagement that kids crave (and need!) the most from their parents.
30 Joyful Ways to Play and Connect
1. Chase Games
These can be done outdoors in just a few minutes, or even inside! We have a “circuit” in our house for chasing games! They can involve your child chasing you, you chasing your child, playing tag where one person is “it”, etc. There can be hugs at the end when a person is caught – or a tickle!
2. Hide and Seek
Kids as young as 2 can begin to play this favourite. Start off by hiding yourself and having them try to find you. Or hide a favourite stuffed animal and look for him/her together. Give a hug when the person is found – or chase back to a certain spot!
Most parenting experts now agree that wrestling and rough-housing is really healthy for kids (especially boys) as long as no one gets hurt.
Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different–and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men, argues that wrestling is especially essential for boys to learn self-control. He likens them learning how to wrestle, without hurting someone else, to learning to drive a car (or their testosterone driven bodies!) without running everyone over. In order for boys to learn when to stop, they need practise. And of course, boys (and many girls) love this kind of play!
4. Buzz Hug Game
A “buzz hug” is a snug hug that is given with a gentle shaking and buzzing sound. Onetime absolutely loves this giggly, silly hug. He loves to take a run at me and then when I catch him, I swoop him up into my arms and buzz away. Repeat!
Some kids like tickles and some don’t and it’s important to always respect your child’s wishes for their own body. Tickles can be a game in themselves, or a reward while playing hide and seek or a chase game. Kids also usually love to tickle adults – even if they don’t like it themselves!
6. Dancing or Marching to Music
For almost a whole year, my son absolutely loved doing something called the “Piggy Dance” which was essentially him and me (or him and my husband) marching in circles around the living room coffee table while singing the special piggy dance song we created together as a family. It never ceased to generate smiles and laughter!
Create your own special dance – or just play some fun music and actually get up and dance with your kids. You might even burn some calories while you’re at it!
7. Playing Music Together
This can be a fun way to bond! Put on some music and get instruments out and play along, or even better, play real musical instruments and create songs together. My son loves “jamming” on the keyboards while my husband plays matching chords on his guitar.
8. Floor Play
Sometimes doing a simple activity like a jigsaw puzzle, or a stacking game together on the floor can be all a child needs to connect. Open-ended toys like blocks, cars and trucks, and dolls provide many ways for your child to direct the play and you to follow their lead – something kids love!
9. Walking Outside
There’s something about being outside together, especially out in a natural area, that is good for the soul! Try exploring a new park, a local pond or boardwalk, or even just follow a trail that you haven’t been down before. Your child will pick up on your sense of adventure and exploration and you’ll get some fresh air and sunshine!
10. Playdough/Sensory Activities
There are so many great recipes out there for fun sensory activities for kids to do, but your child will absolutely adore it if you explore some of them WITH her!
Onetime really gets imaginative when I sit down and play with the playdough with him, and I always find sensory activities a great opportunity to expand oral language. Try some of these recipes for motivation.
If you haven’t done this yet, start easy by making pancakes from batter that only needs you to add a couple of ingredients, or a pre-mixed muffin mix. Your child will love learning to stir and pour and especially enjoy the tasting!
Read our 10 Tips for Baking with Kids post to get some ideas for making this fun and easy.
12. Car Play
Even when you’re on your way somewhere, you can take time to connect.
Onetime loves playing I-Spy in the car, or a game where I say the first line or two of a nursery rhyme and he fills in the last word. e.g. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a….?” “Wall!” “Humpty Dumpty had a great….?” “Fall!”
Older kids can play Rhyming I-Spy. “I spy something that rhymes with bag.” Answer: flag!
13. Imaginative Play
One of the toddler and preschooler’s favourite forms of play. Join in his/her play by being a willing participant (be a firefighter too!), a helping character (become the mechanic when the train breaks), or a subordinate (be the patient when she’s the doctor.)
Remember to follow your child’s lead, ask questions like “Where should we go next? What should we do next?” and get on his/her level when playing.
14. Playground Play
Go to the local playground and play with your child!
Swing on the swings beside your child, or push your child on the swings from in front and pretend to let your child kick you over with their feet. Go down the slide together, play tag on the climbers, or lift your child up to hold the rings.
15. Sing Songs Together
Sing favourite songs in the car, while walking to school, in the living room after dinner, or before bedtime.
For almost a year, Onetime wanted me to make up a song for him each night before bedtime. I would ask him for a topic (usually something we did that day) and I’d make up the words using a tune I knew like London Bridge. They rarely rhymed, but he seemed to love them regardless!
You can also add fun to washing hands, brushing teeth time, and clean-up time by singing songs. Our favourite is “We’re washing our hands, we’re washing our hands, we’re getting all clean, we’re washing our hands,” sung to The Farmer and the Dell. The song continues with verses for We’re making lots of bubbles, We’re rinsing our hands, and We’re drying off our hands!
This is one of my very favourite ways to connect with my son! It’s always a go-to activity when Onetime is cranky or needs some attention.
Onetime likes to choose his own book and we snuggle up in a special chair. We also talk a lot while we read – I read the text, then we talk about the pictures, then I ask questions or he asks questions. Usually, the more slowly we read a book, the more enjoyable the experience!
17. Turn-Taking Games
Any kind of activity where you’re taking turns is perfect for connecting.
Think: throwing a ball back and forth, playing soccer together, tossing a beanbag, playing hockey, blowing bubbles to each other to pop, etc. Try our Pom Pom Turn-Taking Game for exciting connection time!
18. Weather Watching
This is an activity you can do when the moment is right. Take a few minutes to look out the window and describe the weather. e.g. “How can you tell it’s windy out?” and look for all the signs.
Watch a rainstorm together from the garage (a favourite activity I used to do with my father as a little girl). If you’re up early in the morning or later at night, go outside and admire the moon, or star gaze together.
19. Special Snacking
Have a special snack on a blanket outside, start a meal with dessert instead of the main course, make a snack together, or go to the grocery store and pick out a new fruit or food to try together!
Make art together or build something together. Need some inspiration? Here are some projects that Onetime and I have done together that were a lot of fun and great connection time: Cardboard Airport, Eggy Collage Art, DIY Birds’ Nest
21. Out and About Play
Piggy back rides and rides on shoulders are old favourites when you’re out walking. Have you tried the old game of swinging your child between both parents when walking? These are all fun ways to connect with physical touch.
22. Bathroom Play
Be playful while brushing your child’s teeth by telling him/her that you see different things or people inside your child’s mouth. You can give a running narrative of how you “see” Bob the Builder (or insert your child’s favourite character) way at the back by the molars and you’re trying to get him clean too!
When Onetime is in the bath, he still enjoys playing peekaboo over the tub. Have your child lay back in the water with his/her ears under and tap out rhythms on the side of the tub.
23. Pillow Play
When your kids are old enough to enjoy it, have a good old-fashioned pillow fight! Perfect physical play with guaranteed giggles!
24. Couch Play
If you’re not too picky about the state of your living room, make sofa cushion forts or blanket forts with your child. Even more fun if you can fit inside and read a book with a flashlight!
Swoop your child up in your arms and then gently throw them onto the couch. Have fun destroying the fort when you’re all done.
Find more couch cushion games here.
This is always a favourite at my house. If Onetime is grumpy or doesn’t feel like doing something, my husband and I will often get one of his puppet friends or stuffies and make them talk to him.
It’s amazing how much Onetime likes these little “shows” and he will often engage in lengthy conversations with his puppet pals while cooperating with us!
26. Criss-Cross Apple Sauce
Do you remember this old favourite? Recite this rhyme while drawing on your child’s back.
“Criss-Cross apple sauce (draw a cross),
Spiders crawling up your back (tickle both hands up back),
One here (tickle left shoulder), One there (tickle right shoulder),
Spiders crawling in your hair (tickle head).
Tight squeeze (squeeze shoulder), Cool breeze (blow in child’s ear),
Now you’ve got the shiveries!” (tickle them gently all over their back and head).
I like to finish with an “egg crack.” Pretend to crack an egg on your child’s head by gently bumping the top of their head with your fist and then tickling the fingers slowly down their head and onto their back like yolk running down.
Other gentle tickle games include drawing letters on your child’s back and having them guess what you wrote, or giving your child a nice bedtime massage!
27. Mirroring Games
These are guaranteed a laugh, as long as your child doesn’t feel he/she is being mocked. Spontaneously start copying what your child is doing! You can also do this one in an actual mirror if you’re standing beside or behind them. Make funny faces and try to imitate each other. Follow the leader.
28. The Love Gun (Lawrence Cohen)
The idea is for your child to shoot you with a pretend “love gun.” Once you’re shot, you chase after them to give them kisses and hugs! You can do this with a spouse first to show them how it works, and you can have lots of fun before the chasing part by pretending that their shot missed you!
29. You’ll Never Get Away Game (Lawrence Cohen)
Another fun idea from Playful Parenting. Basically you hug your child and challenge them to get out. The first time you try this game, let them get out easily, then you can make it tougher as you gauge your child’s interest.
30. Nightly Cuddle and Chat
A really nice way to end the day, I do this with Onetime every night. After reading our bedtime story, we cuddle for a bit while talking about what happened that day. It’s great for helping your child develop a sense of narrative (beginnings, middles, and endings), but most of all it’s really nice bonding time.
After reviewing the day’s events, I usually tell Onetime something I’m grateful for and he tells me something he’s grateful for as well.
If you’re brave enough, you can ask your child to tell you something that made them feel loved today, and you can share something with them too. If your child has trouble answering this question – you know you’ve got a whole bunch of ideas here that you can try the next day!
Pam Leo reminds me that in order to connect deeply with our kids, we have to do the things that they want us to do, in their way – even if it’s just for 10 minutes!
By the way, I just finished creating a really neat printable resource that I’m calling Parent & Child CONNECTION COUPONS. You can print these fun play idea “coupons” off and use them with your child/children in a variety of ways to help stimulate fun connect time. Your kids will LOVE these!
Hopefully, you’ve found some inspiration in this post for some more ways to connect with your child. I would love to hear about any thing that you do with your kids to have fun together. Leave a comment below!
P.S. To keep following our alphabetic journey, visit the Teaching Kids About Character page.