ACTIVITIES TO TRY AT HOME WITH SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN
David L. Myrow, Ph.D.
West Seneca, NY 14224 USA
Few Families have the luxury of having lots of free time to just play together.
When both parents work outside the home, or when there is just one parent at home, ordinary activities like meals and homework take up most of the available time. It is easy to feel that we are "just going through the motions" of daily life, without feeling close of important to each other. Busy parents can use Theraplay activities to enjoy more closeness and have fun with their children.
Many ordinary children's games can be made into Theraplay activities. To do this, the games need to be made more physically intimate, with tactics that increase emotional closeness (providing nurture and engagement) and the rules need to be clarified, with the adult in charge (providing structure and challenge). In therapeutic practice, of course, the activities are only one aspect of the experience, and the Theraplay therapist adapts the activities to meet the family's goals. When children are resistant to having this kind of fun, the therapist has to spend time helping the child feel more comfortable first. However, most children will be able to enjoy the following activities right away. Remember to use your own eyes to seek eye contact, and to look for opportunities for comfortable physical closeness. And let us know how it goes!
Eyeblinking (or Staring) Contest
Child and parent sit cross-legged, touching knees. Adult puts his hands on the child's shoulders; child puts his hands on Dad's arms. Adult says "When I say Go [or "3" or "pumpkins", etc.], we have to look into each others' eyes. The last person to blink wins, and the winner gets the prize: he can give the other guy a hug or a tickle."
Tunnels (or Bridges)
This is best done where there is about 10 or 12 feet of open floor space. Adult makes a bridge (or tunnel) in the middle of the area by making an arch with her body (hands and feet or knees on the floor). Adult tells the child to get on hands and knees in a corner or side of the room, facing the adult. The adult says, "When I say Go, you start crawling as fast as you can. I'm going to count to five, and when i get to five, the tunnel is going to fall down - if you are in it, you will get it, so crawl as fast as you can!" The adult makes it so that the child can get through the tunnels a few times before it falls down, by decreasing number of counts: "Now see if you can get through in just three counts. Go!" When the tunnel falls down, the adult gives a few hugs or little tickles.
Guess the Goodies
The adult prepares for this in advance by placing eight or ten little goodies in an envelope or cup so that they can be kept hidden from the child. These might include m&ms, raisins, a little pretzel, a grape, a piece of apple, other candies or goodies - only ones that the child likes! The treats need to be the right size for the child's age, e.g. big grapes should be cut in half for very young children. Then the adult and child sit either knee to knee, or for younger children, with the child in the adult's lap, so that they can see each other comfortably. Adult says, "I've got some delicious goodies in this envelope. I want you to close your eyes. I'll put one of these in your mouth and you see if you can guess what it is. Then you can eat it! After I put the goodie in your mouth, you can open your eyes while you guess what is is." The adult seeks eye contact throughout and gives ample hints if the child does not recognize the treat. Afterward, the adult might ask which ones the child likes best.