During this season of lockdown I have been going on regular walks and getting to know a little furry friend who lives in the household really well. On a few occasions, it has been clear I think I am going for a walk- but really, she is going for a walk and I am just her chaperone…when she decides it’s time to stop and smell the floor or a bush, she lets me know! And sometimes I am able to move her on, and other times she’s stubborn and holds her ground, which gives me a chance to enjoy the sun and take a moment for myself. I can hear anyone who knows anything about dogs probably gasping and concerned that I am letting her be in control and her training will be going out of the window…well, probably, but that’s the joy of not being her owner, I guess. We get to just have fun!
She has no understanding of social distancing, unless it’s a particularly large looking dog, and then she’s very wary and freeze’s. I find it fascinating seeing her reactions to different dogs and their owners and how we have been able to communicate so much without really using any words. I do rabbit on to her and wonder whether she has any clue what I am saying- but she certainly knows what I am saying when I ask her if she’d like to go for a walk and I am actively sort out mid-afternoon if I haven’t suggested it already.
What on earth has any of this got to do with play and children, I hear you ask? On my walks I have observed a few families also seizing their opportunity for daily exercise. On a particularly lovely day last week I observed a father walking behind his two children who kept running ahead of him, and playing together while he followed and raised his voice repeatedly with constant demands on how they should behaving and chastising them over their behaviour. I think we’ve all been there. I could see absolutely nothing wrong with what these children were doing and could only hear his stress. I felt for the dad, I felt for the kids. It is so easy to get stuck in a negative pattern. How many times do families fill the day with wasted words. What if somehow our words were put on lockdown and restricted? I wonder, how many of those words we would actually choose to say? Would we change the words we choose?
These two children did an amazing job of paying absolutely no attention to anything that their father said. They seemed completely oblivious to his raised voice. To them it had become background noise, one that perhaps they were all too familiar with. The only person not enjoying their time outside, was the father. I so wished I could see him join in and run around care-free like his children. Free of the stress he was holding and the false behaviour expectations he was carrying. He behaved as if his children had walked into a sombre graveyard or silent library and he wanted them to behave and be quiet and not draw attention to him…but we were in a park with a lake and the sun was shining.
They were just being children, in the right environment to be children, enjoying life. He spent the whole time trying to reign them in and yet, it was his raised voice which made me look and focus on his little family, not the children’s natural behaviour. The children were being children and if you’ll allow me to judge him for a second, he wasn’t being a father, he was playing the role of a jailer and trying to imprison and control. I wondered if his childhood had come with a jailer too? I wished I had the power to step into the moment with the family and bring a lighter approach… a playful approach. To open his eyes to what I could see and relieve him of the stress he was carrying.
He was super stressed and for all I know was struggling with bereavement and did feel like he was walking around a cemetery. Stress can so often blind us because we are stuck in our heads and can’t see the moment we are in and our surroundings. Finding ways to get out of our heads and escape the blindness is not always to hand although there are things we can do to help this.
I wondered how often do we put the wrong expectations upon our children and then find ourselves policing the behaviour and getting cross and frustrated that they are not listening and paying attention. It is so hard for us adults to approach life like children and do what is natural to them which is playing and enjoying the moment. It is when a child isn’t doing this that I worry.
Self-control is an important part of growing and maturing and something we learn as we grow and mature. Children are able to learn this and in the right environment, but being restrained and bridled like a horse in an environment which communicates freedom, doesn’t make sense. It would make sense to me if the father was policing his children to maintain social distancing and guiding them in how to do this, but the commands were not warranted or necessary.
It is really challenging to parent with freedom when you are feeling stressed. I am not sure that there are many people in the world who are not feeling stressed due to the restraints that have been put on our freedom during lockdown. When children are stuck in their own homes they feel constrained, tensions rise and each day can feel like it’s on repeat, making your life even more stressful! This could get worse, week on week. Making the most out of your family moments is challenging during restricted movement.
It is so important that us adults deal with our stress as best we can in order to be able to support our little people. We are all searching for a place of safety and Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a perfect picture of why things don’t feel great and easy at the moment.
Our safety is being threatened and we are working out ways of finding safety within our own lives. When the building blocks lower down the triangle aren’t in place, it is very difficult to achieve anything higher up. When a simple activity of a trip to the supermarket has become the most stressful thing you can now do, you feel threatened and unable to achieve self actualisation and a state of peace.
There are many things we can do to help our sense of safety. And sometimes this comes with decisions which might contrast with our owner inner jailer. I’m thinking of that voice which tells you that you shouldn’t eat too many treats as you’ll put on weight, or drink too much. However, if these things bring us comfort and are not excessive, then they are actually good for us. We should not being feeling guilty for needing these things in order to be able to feel safe and then be able to achieve the work we need to get through or the parenting we are struggling with.
There are of course healthy alternatives that you might like to try for the first time. Did you know that mindfulness can help you to feel more peaceful and help to restore the balanced safe feeling you may be missing?
What is mindfulness? I hear you ask…it is simply being mindful of what is happening inside our bodies, outside our bodies and around us. It can be easy to rush through our days without stopping to take notice.
An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting to our bodies and the sensations that they experience. Sometimes we can get stuck living inside our heads which means we might not notice how our feelings are changing our behaviours. We all, adults and children can get stuck inside our heads and not listen to our bodies.
Paying more attention to the present moment and pulling your children in to these moments is a part of what mindfulness is all about. Being more aware. It helps us to make the most out of moments and therefore enjoy life better. You can do things in your family to make these moments more present.
The good news is that play and mindfulness is really great at helping us to build memorable moments with our families so that we can relieve stress, build resilience and make the most out of every moment through mindfulness activities. The even better news is that I have been exploring some simple activities which have been supporting a family I work with to use mindfulness opportunities with simple games and activities. I have made them accessible to anyone who needs them through my Facebook page here:
They have been designed to help bring calm to our stressed children, but they can also be great for guiding parents too with increased opportunities to connect inner feelings, outward behaviours and by being more aware. The hope is that we are all more able to let go of the things we can’t control, and take hold of the things that we can.
Mindfulness can help your whole family well-being by becoming more aware of the present moments you can help your family enjoy each day more and understand yourselves and each other better. It can help you to experience things afresh that you’ve taken for granted and become aware of thoughts that are invading your family space and send them packing! Making memorable noticeable moments will help you and your family to deal with your stress better.
If you don’t take the time to be more mindful, the stress and the fear of the current situation will paralyse your family and steal joy from your home and no one wants that as moments of joy will be harder to come by. Also, it is great that Mindfulness is a recommended way to prevent depression from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Doing these things regularly interrupts the autopilot of negative thoughts and focuses our minds on other things. Over on our Facebook page you will find downloads for FREE Making Memorable Moments resource which will give you three simple mindfulness activities for using with your family.
Also, sign-up for the FREE Making More Memorable Moments resource will give you a further three activities which are all designed around reducing worries and anxieties.
Play with them, give them a go and I’d love to hear any feedback on how these helped.
I hope you are able to find ways of feeling safe at this time to enable you to guide your smaller ones. As always, if you would like further support and help, as these things are always easier to implement with someone else, then do get in touch and I’d love to help you navigate the stresses of today to find hope for tomorrow.
Certified Play Therapist