Just like us, kids get worried and scared. And during the past months in lockdown, there’s no doubt that this has escalated with all the uncertainty and news that surround them on a daily basis.
But, according to Katie Hurley, a psychotherapist and author of The Happy Kid, play not only offers kids welcome relief from tension, it also provides a safe space for them to get to grips with tough topics. She says children use imaginary play and all kinds of toys, from stuffed animals and dolls, to blocks and bricks, to express the emotions they find difficult to talk about.
Children lean towards play to work through complex experiences, adds Dr Lawrence Cohen, a psychologist and play expert in his book, The Opposite to Worry. He writes that, “by pretending or by retelling the story the scene can be re-created but this time the child is in charge. Through playing it out, emotional healing takes place.”
ALSO SEE: 13 signs your young child is anxious
Here are 3 great ways to help your kids play through their anxieties
Chortles, chuckles and giggles
Have you noticed how your child will often complain he has a tummy ache when he’s scared or anxious? The theory is that when a child experiences fear or anxiety, his body naturally prepares for fight or flee. This releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which makes his heart beat faster and increases blood flow to his muscles to get ready for danger. This makes it difficult for his muscles to relax and it can affect his digestive system.
But this is where laughter helps, say experts. This is because it relaxes muscles, reduces stress hormones and triggers a release of those feel-good hormones called endorphins. Find out what it is that your kid finds funny (no matter how silly you might think it is) and prompt him when he least expects it. This could be anything from pulling weird faces to giving him a good tickle.
We love this idea because it fits into our busy schedules. The idea is to set aside 15 minutes or so for “special time”. Use a timer on your phone and let your little one know that when it rings, it’s their “special time”. That means that they can do anything they want with you during this time. Make sure that your phone is off in this time (and the rest of the family knows it’s special time with Johnny) so that you can really make this quality opportunity to be with your child.
The idea is for them to take the lead and choose what they want to play with you. Maybe they’ll invent a game where they pretend they’re the mom or dad and you’re the kid, or that they’re the doctor who’s going to give you an operation. The trick is for them to be able to have “special time” with you regularly so that it becomes a way for them to express themselves and they can feel they can depend on you to listen and be at their side.
Bring on the super powers
When kids are frightened and anxious it helps to give them some “super powers”. You can read into this as you want to, but the idea here is to come up with some fun games where you challenge them physically, but then let them win! For example, you can have a big pillow fight, a tickling contest, a tug of war, a race across the yard… Remember, you don’t want to overwhelm them with physical force – you want them to play and make them feel powerful.
Content editor and writer on Living & Loving, Sonya has over 25 years experience in the media industry. She edited Living & Loving magazine for six-and-a-half years and is the former editor of Longevity magazine. She’s won numerous media industry awards and is passionate about the health and wellbeing of moms and children.
Outside of work, she enjoys trying out recipes, reading crime mysteries and thrillers, practicing yoga, and exploring new destinations.
Learn more about Sonya Naudé.