How Toys and Games Help Kids Learn to Show Affection
- Play connecting games with each of your children.
Connecting games are those you play just to focus on your relationship with your child. You are playing a connecting game when: you feel loving toward your child, you are in close contact (using eye contact and touch when possible), and you are being playful. These activities can be brief but are extremely powerful in strengthening the bond between you and your child, which is important for children of every age.
- Dedicate a special time to play with each of your children individually.
Schedule about 15-20 minutes when you will play with your child one-on-one, allowing him or her to be in charge. Keep rules to a bare minimum and don’t try to lead their play or teach them anything. Just be emotionally present and give him or her your full attention. (Yes, this means turning off your cellphone!) Give this special playtime a name and commit to offer it consistently for each child, whether it is every day or every week. You and the child will feel closer and you will get to know your child’s interests and abilities even better.
- Interact in ways that support your relationship.
Use these relationship-building ways of interacting with your children throughout your day, when you are playing and any time you are together. They not only strengthen your relationships with them, they also set the stage for more beneficial play times between you.
Playing with your children is good for their developing brains, even when we aren’t trying to teach them anything. Research shows that close relationships with caring adults are the most important thing affecting children’s healthy brain development!
Relationships shape the brain’s architecture, especially during the child’s early years. They help form and strengthen the connections between brain cells that are crucial for healthy development and affect how the brain functions. So, when you strengthen your relationships with your children, you are building the foundation for their learning, behavior and health – for their lifetimes.
The Importance of Relationships
Children who have a close, consistent relationship with at least one caring adult:
- are more resilient – able to overcome hardships
- get along better with peers and have higher level social skills
- tolerate frustration better and show less aggression, depression and anxiety
- have improved attention, language and math skills
- achieve more in school
- have stronger self-regulation skills
Watch, Listen and Learn. When children are seeking your attention, they are really looking for relationship. This is a basic human need we never outgrow; our brains are wired for connection with others.
Focus on the same things. This technique, called shared attention, helps you to respond to your children’s interests and helps your children develop their attention span. Watch for times when:
- Your baby looks at you or an object
- Your toddler points to something
- Your preschooler asks you a “why” question
- Your school-age child wants you to join in his or her activity
These times are opportunities to engage in “serve and return” interactions. These brain-building back-and-forth interactions are like a game of tennis: Your child “serves” by looking, pointing, or talking, then you return the serve by responding to the focus of their attention. Take as many turns as you can, noticing serves, encouraging and talking about his or her interests, waiting for responses and realizing when they are ready to stop. Serve and return interactions with shared attention are an extremely powerful way to build brains!
Develop rituals to foster closeness. Rituals are consistent routines that you create with each child’s needs in mind. They are designed to strengthen relationships and provide predictability and comfort to your children. If you’ve developed a way of helping your children get ready for bed based on their needs and interests that is the same every night, you have a bedtime ritual. Think of other times during your daily routine that you can build in rituals and get your children’s help in choosing activities to strengthen your relationship: getting ready in the morning, saying hello and goodbye, during rides in the car or bus, or waiting. Rituals build relationships and have the added benefit of helping make mundane routines more enjoyable times for all of you!
Think positive. What you focus on is what you get! To get the most brain-building benefit out of your interactions with your children, focus on what you want them to do, not what you don’t want. When children are engaging in behaviors that “push our buttons”, try to think positive thoughts. Take time to observe them and listen to them, notice the good things they do, and offer encouragement as often as you can. When you think positive, your connection with your children will grow – and so will your joy in life!
Schedule down time. Just like us, children need to have time when nothing is required of them. This gives them a chance to rest, relax and learn to reflect on their experiences, which helps them to learn from them. Be sure to schedule your own down time, too. Then you will all be refreshed and better able to handle whatever comes your way!
One of the best ways to strengthen relationships is through play – and it’s fun, too! Enjoy growing closer with your children through play, and know you are building their brains and giving their learning, behavior and health a great start in life! Now that you know how important your relationships are with your children – here are some relationship building games to play with your child:
For infants and toddlers:
Chant or sing a nursery rhyme or simple song, using touch and gestures. Here’s one to try:
“Round and Round the Garden”
Round and round the garden, (make a circle in child’s palm)
Goes the teddy bear.
One step, two steps, (fingers walk up child’s arm)
Tickle you under there! (gently tickle child under arm)
Bounce your child on your lap and chant a little rhyme like this one:
“Giddy Up Horsey”
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up horsey.
Giddy-up, giddy-up, go, go, go.
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up horsey.
Giddy-up, giddy-up, Whoa! (let child slip through knees)
For preschool and young school-age children:
Sit across a table from your child. Spread out your arms on the table to make the boundaries for the game.
Have your child blow through a straw to push the pom-pom to you.
Then trade roles, using your own straw.
Take turns again and again.
Take turns with your child copying each other’s moves and facial expressions. Not only does this game strengthen your relationship, it also helps children develop empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others.
For children ages 8 and up:
With your finger, trace a message on your child’s back for them to figure out. For added connection, make it loving and affirming!
“Car and Driver”
Stand behind a child with your hands on her shoulders. Direct the child to start, turn and stop using only your hands.
The child can take a turn “driving” with her hands on your waist.