When children misbehave and disobey, it can be difficult to stay calm, especially if the negative behavior has become routine. Parents can often feel agitated, stressed, and helpless. There can be so many reasons for a child’s disobedience. Both the parent and child may feel stuck, as if on an uphill treadmill and unable to get off. The parent-child relationship also suffers and a void is created.
Parents may yearn for the good old days when their children behaved nicely and there was peace in the home. Other parents may say, “We don’t even know what that’s like!” Being a parent is one of the most difficult roles humans experience in their lives.
Despite the challenges, there is one activity that can make a significant change in the child’s life and the parent-child relationship.
Yes, it is play! The power of play can be magical for all of us. Plenty of studies confirm playing is not only beneficial for one’s physical well being but also for our emotional and mental health. Some parents may claim they are too exhausted to play with their children. Before you say that, consider some of the benefits play can bring into your child’s life.
- Research indicates that oxytocin levels rise when children and parents play and laugh together. When you connect physically and emotionally with your child, this hormone strengthens your child’s overall wellbeing.
- Oxytocin is also a stress hormone. When under stress, it motivates individuals to seek support from those they care about. When your child is having a meltdown and pushes you away, respect that. Though, remember to keep a balance because that’s often when your child needs you the most.
- Find a way to relate and play with your child every day. Kelly McGonigal once said, “It is amazing that our stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.” What better way to bond with your child? Can you envision what can happen in your child’s physiology as you interact and play, especially after a particular stressful day at school?
- During play, mirror neurons are engaged as you make eye contact with your child. Being with your child 100% (no phone, TV or other distractions) allows you to be in touch with your child’s feelings and understand him in that moment. As you reflect back, the message you send him is, “I’m here, I hear you, I understand, and I care about you!” Your child is also learning empathy directly from you.
- During your special playtime, let her be the leader. She will feel empowered and in control for those precious minutes. Think about it. How often is your child in charge of her life? Her disobedience and misbehavior may be an indication that she feels helpless and powerless.
- Remember a rule of thumb that says, “Never do for a child that which he can do for himself.” If something is challenging, reflect his feelings and provide nonjudgmental support. Give your child a chance to problem solve himself, and if necessary work on a resolution together.
- Playing with your child allows both of you to practice setting limits. When she wants to do something that is unsafe or unacceptable, reflect her feelings and set the limit in a positive way. Your child and you will start looking at limit setting with a different attitude as you acknowledge her feelings, communicate the limit, and provide an alternative that is adequate and safe.
Children cannot communicate their thoughts and feelings with words as well as you wish they did. They can communicate with you during special playtime because toys are their words and play is their language. Enter their world and connect with your child, then see what happens.
You can also reach out to a professional who practices play therapy and can provide you with additional skills through CPRT. Child-Parent Relationship Therapy is an evidence-based program designed to strengthen the child-parent relationship, improve children’s behavior, and restore confidence in your child among many other benefits. A trained play therapist will teach you basic child-centered play therapy skills. You will learn how to become a therapeutic agent in helping your child create long-term positive changes in her life.
Don’t forget that you are the expert on your child. You may recognize that playing and connecting with your child daily may not be enough. Request a thorough physical and psychological assessment to determine what additional skills and resources you and your child may need.
No matter what, continue to play with your child and never lose hope!
Bratton S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard S. R. (2006). Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) Treatment Manual: A 10-Session Filial Therapy Model for Training Parents. New York: Routledge.
McGonigal, K. (2013, June). How to Make Stress Your Friend [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend
Stewart, A., Field, T. & Echterling, L. (2016). Neuroscience and the magic of play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 25. 4-13. 10.1037/pla0000016.