Play is a fundamental part of childhood which, in my opinion, is frankly underrated. I am not sure at what age we stop indulging in learning through play; But for children, it’s actually their first and most important opportunity to bond with and learn from, the people around them. Parents often ask how they can bond with their babies? How old a baby has to be before they can play with them? How do we solve the mother-baby bonding problems? What is the mother-baby bonding theory? In reality, playing with your children during the pregnancy and much after that till their adolescence is a great way to connect with your children.
Bonding with children during Pregnancy
From about 26 weeks baby can hear your voice and the voices of those around them like partners and parents. At this stage it can be hard to feel connected to little one; especially fathers can find it really hard to bond with the children during pregnancy as they may not always get to enjoy movements and kicks. It can be equally hard for mothers who have found pregnancy not as magical as everyone makes out it is.
Bonding tips during pregnancy
Playful interaction with a bump can be a great way to start building an emotional connection; Science tells us that interactions such as these can even help babies recognize your voice after they are born!
Being playful doesn’t have to be complicated, playing music to bump, singing a little song, or even just talking to the baby are all great activities. Bump massage or even the tower challenge are great activities to bring some comfort and laughter to not just the children but helps you bond with your partner as well! (For those who don’t know the tower challenge involves using food items to try and build the tallest tower on bump before baby kicks it down again!)
Bonding with Babies
You are your child’s first and most important playmate. During those early months spending quality time with your children lays a foundation for forming a strong relationship. Science, says that children learn most of their behaviors and interactions through a process called modeling. This means, a child observes the behaviors and actions of those closest to them and then copies those behaviors and actions. If those behaviors get their needs met, then they are more likely to repeat those behaviors which are a key foundation for modeling.
Bonding tips with babies
Singing songs together, pulling faces and naming body parts and faces around them are all great ways to get babies interacting. What truly matters is how you say it and not what you say. The tone of voice, excitement and big facial expressions are far more important than the words themselves. If you’re singing in pitch, just have fun with it, your baby certainly isn’t going to judge you.
Bonding with Toddlers
As babies turn into toddlers, ‘play’ becomes the predominant way they explore the world and people around them. It’s often tempting to try and structure play to be educational, to teach children the ‘correct’ use for toys; however, play should be an exploration with no right or wrong answer.
Bonding tips with toddlers
Instead of trying to structure your toddlers’ play; try and offer lots of different ways to interact with the world around them. You can do this by getting them out in nature, exploring everyday items and letting them take the lead. Give lots of praises and cheers for a job well done and you’ll quickly find your toddler becoming more confident and excited in their own play and accomplishments.
Bonding with Children
Despite every advertisement campaign to ever hit the small screen, you don’t need expensive toys to help children learn, explore and develop an understanding of behaviors and emotions. If we revisit the modeling concept, children learn behaviors and actions through observations and not through the color of plastic or the associated price tag.
Bonding tips with children
Toys are of-course useful tools in play; But the most important thing that matters is the attention you give to your children. This focused attention is what encourages your children to develop, practice, and re-use all the great skills you want them to learn be it patience or a habit of sharing. Whether you’re using homemade toys, doing some coloring or are out on an adventure – continue to let your child lead and consider yourself more of a commentator on the action. Try to not ask a lot of questions to your children, as tempting and fun as it may seem, it can hinder or limit the children’s play; they start focusing more on giving the correct answer and not on play. Instead, comment on those behaviors and actions you want to see more of. For example ‘I really like how carefully you’re putting those blocks on top of each other’ or ‘I love how well you’re working as a team’.
Bonding with Adolescents
Okay, so when you think teenagers, your immediate thought maybe that surely they don’t want to play with their parents! There is some truth to this, we know that during the teenage years the key influencers for your children will be their peers. However, play and parents can still have some influence even now. Adolescence is a time of great change and unknown, your child is trying to navigate that tricky transition from seeing themselves as a child to identifying themselves as an adult. They are trying out different styles and ideas that suit them. Often this means that they are finding a safe space where they can talk and explore their issues, doubts, insecurities, struggles, with the adults they have trusted their whole lives.
Bonding tips with an adolescent
A great way to establish a trust circle and letting your teenager open up with you is by allowing them to lead and finding an activity that you can do together. Whether it’s letting them do your make-up, kicking a ball around together, baking up a storm or even the weekly journey to their clubs can all account for those meaningful conversations – use this time to reinforce their strengths, praise them, and bring a focus to their self-esteem, problem-solving skills and how proud you are on their simple effort of trying.
Here at WYSA, we did a small school study in 2019 and found that as teenagers get older their self-esteem lessens and their experience of stress becomes more acute. Attributing their sense of self-worth to test scores is a big part of that. These playful spaces are a key opportunity to bring the emphasis back to all the other things they are good at and the importance of simply trying.
So as you can see, no matter how old you get, play is a key part of bonding with your children, helping your children form their identity and making them learn about the world around them. There is no wrong and right way to play and you don’t have to structure the learning, the play will take care of that for you. The power of play should never be under-estimated, in fact, the next time things are feeling out of pace for you, why not give it a try yourself? You might just be surprised by how good it can feel.