Helena Mooney



Play isn’t just helpful for your children.  It’s also helpful for you too!  Find out:

  • how play helps
  • when you can use it
  • the types of play
  • a fun game everyone loves
  • Why play is great for you too.

Last episode we talked about what’s going on in your child’s brain to explain why they do the things that they do and why you sometimes react in ways you vowed you never would.

We talked about what your child was needing – the core things being connection with you.  The other thing was emotional release – because we all carry stress from everyday occurrences, and as adults we can carry it for an increasing amount of time.  Often too long.  But we can hold onto it for longer than our children

The younger the child, the less they can carry the stress.

So what’s the best way to offload this stress?  2 main ways: crying and laughing.  There’s also raging, yawning, shaking etc.

But for today’s episode we’re going to look at laughing & play.

Connection is at the heart of everything, so it’s most helpful for our children to laugh with us.

Which is where play comes in.

Hand in Hand Parenting calls it Playlistening.  Aware Parenting refers to it as Attachment Play

And it’s why I’m super passionate about it because it’s a fun, easy way to connect with our children & help them with their stress that’s driving their challenging behaviour.

It’s more than just playing dolls or dinosaurs and spending time with our children – there’s more to it than that.  

Remember – the more we can help our children offload their stress, the better they’ll feel and the better they’ll behave.  Super simple.

Play Counters Feeling Powerless

Play also has another purpose which is to help offset the power imbalance that is inherent in our interactions with our children.

Children are powerless in so many ways (i know it often feels otherwise) but we tell them…….

When people feel powerless, they either become aggressive and lash out, or they give up & internalise that anxiety.

So we want to help our children overcome this feeling and, for specific times feel powerful.  Which is why play can help so much.

In those times you want your child to be in control, powerful, capable, and for you to act the fool – do what they say, be incompetent, fall over, etc.  For a child, there’s often nothing funnier than an adult falling over.  

GAME: Chasing Game

The Chasing Game has all the elements.  

Your child will show how they can run faster than you to get away.  You can’t get them and pretend to run super fast but really you move very slowly.  They taunt you.  You keep on ‘failing’.

Likewise, in reverse, your child chases you and they’re so fast that they get you.  They jump on you or trap you.  Again, you pretend to run fast, but you always allow your child to go faster and capture you. 

As your child gets older – you make the game harder.  But the aim is to help your child feel powerful & strong & fast, etc, which requires you to be less powerful, slow, etc and follow their lead.

The more dramatic you are in your performance, the better.  Exaggerate your actions and they will laugh harder. 

So if you’re struggling on how to help your child feel powerful and have a sense of autonomy most of the time, you don’t have to.  You can give it to them in these moments.

When your Child is being Aggressive

Play is perfect if your child is being aggressive.  A simple chasing game allows them to feel strong, get you and probably wrestle with you.  They can feel strong in the moment, connect with you, laugh with you which releases stress and, as a result, will be much less likely to take out their feelings of powerlessness on their siblings, the cat, you, kids at school.

When your Child is being Anxious

Likewise, if you have a child who is anxious, playing this game helps them to feel strong & capable again.  It’s a very physical feeling – it takes them out of their head and feel strong in their body, which helps then with their mind.  Again, the giggling releases some of their stress about their anxieties.  The more you can do this, the more it will help.  

Other Forms of Play

Role Play with Dolls 

You could playfully act out something that happened.  e.g. they hit someone, or someone hit them.  One of the dolls could hit and the other doll fall over dramatically.  

I’ve often chucked a baby doll around the room going – poor baby – to huge amount of giggles.   It doesn’t mean my child is then going to throw babies around the room, but they’re working on perhaps frustration at a younger sibling getting lots of attention, themselves falling over as a toddler trying to learn to walk or do something, etc, etc.  If they’re laughing – they’re releasing stress about something.  

Helping with Stressful Events

You can help prepare your child for medical procedures or stressful events by using play, separation anxiety, toilet training (talking about poo is always guaranteed to make your child laugh), swearing and name calling, homework, past times when you’ve got cross & cranky with them, cleaning teeth, eating food, scary dogs, you name it – there will be a game that could help.  

Talking about things only works when your child’s mind is working.  When they are overcome with frustration, stress or fears, they’re not thinking straight and they won’t be taking anything in.  Play bypasses that rational part of the brain and helps address what’s going on emotionally – and helps to reset and offset some of their stresses.

Play is not meant to jolly your upset child out of their feelings.  When they are sad and upset – listen.  But when they are starting to get antsy, when they come home moody & aggressive, when you can tell they’re struggling with something, suggest or initiate a game.  9 times out of 10, they will love it.  And for that 1 time they don’t, they probably need to offload their upset feelings with you.

How Play is Helpful for YOU Too

Play helps in so many different situations and I know it can seem alien to suggest it for challenging situations, because I highly doubt this is what your parents did with you. On you’re hitting your brother, let’s play!  So it can be hard for you to do it.  It can seem a chore.  You’re not in the mood, etc, etc.  We’ll talk more about all of those things in later episodes.  

But just know that play is incredibly helpful.  It always helps to shift my mood too.  When my child is being particularly annoying, if I play with them, I can feel my love more for them and then want to connect and help them more.

There’s so much seriousness and heaviness in the world.  Play helps to offset that – it brings connection through fun, it helps turn challenging situations around and brings more laughter & happiness to you & your family. 


Aletha Solter & the Aware Parenting Institute

Patty Wipfler & Hand in Hand Parenting

Larry Cohen’s Playful Parenting