Promoting Healthy Bonding: 5 Tips for Attachment-based Play with Children and Caregivers
Before we learn to speak, we play. We often let play recede into the background as we acquire language and move through adolescence into adulthood. At some point, the natural inclination to explore and wonder at the world around us either fades away or is stamped out of many of us. Therefore it can be hard or foreign for many parents to re-engage with this part of themselves when caring for their kids.
One of the wonderful gifts the children in our lives can offer is the opportunity to do so. Through attachment-based play, you can learn to connect with your child on their developmental level; strengthening the bond you share . Attachment-based play is based on attachment theory, first developed by John Bowlby, a British psychologist who defined attachment as "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings."  Essentially, as children develop from infancy, the attachment they form to at least one primary caregiver influences their ability to attach to others healthily later in life.
What does this mean for you as a caregiver? Well, as your child’s main source of safety, security, and protection, it’s important for you to promote this bond. But don’t worry, it can be fun! Attachment-based play allows you to enhance your relationship with your child while encouraging healthy self-esteem, confidence, and management of difficult emotions.
Each child is unique.Their personal tastes, interests, triggers, and personalities will ultimately influence your choice of activity. The great news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when brainstorming ideas that allow for this type of play. Here are a couple tips to get you started:
- Generally, games that encourage eye contact and physical touch can enhance this experience. One many of us may find familiar is the classic Twister. In this game, the one player acts as referee and spins the spinner, then calls out the body part and the color that the arrow points to. For example, the referee may call out: "Right hand, red." All players, at the same time, must try to place the called-out body part on a vacant circle of the called-out color. This game is fun for the whole family and allows those who may not be able to participate otherwise to hold the spinner and determine where each player lands, ensuring that everybody can feel included! For children with trauma, this can also allow them to navigate their comfortability with physical touch.
- Pampering is another way to promote your bond with your child while also modeling self-care. This can look like brushing or grooming each other’s hair, applying lotion to each other’s arms, or applying nail polish or make-up to one another.
- Bubbles! Have your child try to catch all the bubbles before they touch the floor and pop! If you have more than one child, add an extra challenge by having them link arms and/or legs and work together to pop the bubbles. This helps amplify their ability to communicate, and team-build. Additionally, bubbles can be a great teaching tool for mindful breathing. Typically, blowing effective bubbles with a bubble wand involves exhaling consistently, without being too hard or soft. Learning to coregulate your breathing with your child helps them model this behavior and reinforce you as a safe support system when distressing emotions arise.
- Hand-clapping games. These games involve mirroring, pleasant physical touch, and collaboration with your child. Some of us may remember playing these games in school – some popular ones include Miss Mary Mack, Patty-cake, Rockin’ Robin. These games require players to sing a tune while memorizing a sequence of different claps and hand motions. The difficulty can be varied, depending on how many moves you choose to include. The beauty of these games is how versatile they are. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can create your own hand-clap game with your child using your own tune or one you both already enjoy together.
Here’s an example to get you started: Children's Song Miss Mary Mack | Nursery Rhyme for toddlers & kids with lyrics | Miss Patty
- Cotton Ball Hockey: To play cotton ball hockey, ,you and your child must lie on the floor on your stomach facing one another with a pillow between you two. On the pillow, place a cotton ball in the middle. On the count of 3, begin to blow the cotton ball back and forth using air from your mouths until one of you is able to blow it off the pillow and past the other’s nose.
You can add more cotton balls, switch up the rules by adding a number of times the child can try to blow the cotton ball across, take turns, or attempt to move the cotton ball simultaneously as described above. If this position is difficult, note that you can also use a pillow held up between the two of you in a sitting position if that is more comfortable.
Hopefully these tips and game ideas can get you started on a journey towards better connecting with your children!