There is much concern in the media about our mental health as the nights draw in and the weather becomes less kind. Take heart though, because your child is actually your secret weapon against lockdown winter blues!
Research shows that playing and laughter release natural chemicals in the body (endorphins) which make us feel good! They relieve stress, promote well being and even reduce aches and pains.
Playing board games, and solving quizzes can improve our memory and brain function, whilst imaginative play increases creativity and innovation. Emotionally, playing heals hurt and helps relationships by smoothing away disagreements.
We’ve all heard the quote “laughter is the best medicine", but actually it really is! A good laugh releases body tension, boosting the immune system and improving the function of blood vessels. A Norwegian study suggests laughter even helps us live longer!
You could book an expensive play therapist or pay for a laughter workshop but what better expert is there for both of these proven remedies for the blues, than a child?
Why not treat this lockdown as a master class, with your child as the tutor, re discovering your playfulness and seeking the humour in situations? How useful would it be, if by the end of this month, you have learned to tap into play and laughter, finding ways of bringing them into work, relationships and family life?
*The great outdoors is my activity location of preference, as there are so many natural learning resources available in parks and countryside. The benefits of fresh air and exercise (even just walking) on mental health are well documented.
*A good size puddle is the base for floating leaves and sticks, mixing mud pies, stomping and splashing to see how far the water will spread and practising the long jump! Whenever I jump over puddles I imagine I’m jumping over one of those challenging situations which I frequently fall into. It helps me to bite my tongue or take a breath when I next encounter it!
*A home built assault course is fun to create when the weather forces indoor play. Find things to crawl through, jump off and balance on. Stretch older children by timing them on the way round.
* Pillow fights are great fun! Not having siblings, I was often hesitant about joining in with these but I was once privileged to be on a training course with Steve Biddulph (The Secrets of happy children) who told me I had a moral duty to join in, so that my boys could learn to recognise their strength in comparison with mine and know that when a woman says ‘stop’, it means‘ stop’! I took this advice and learnt to enjoy pillow fights.
*Dancing is an instant mood lifter! According to MindWise, Swedish researchers say that besides being a great way to improve co-ordination and flexibility, dancing aids mental health. Children love dancing with their adults. Put on some music, find a floaty piece of material and take it turns to lead the movements.
*Refresh old toys by simply placing them in carrier bags and hiding them around the house. Old toys somehow acquire new novelty when put in bags! You could add some new items for extra 'spice' such as plain biscuits and a set of coloured icing sugars, a paper plate, elastic and some crayons to make a mask, or if you feel adventurous, coloured rice or cornflour mixed with a little water!
*Trust games are a great way to bond. Hurling themselves into space and knowing you will catch them, is a favourite toddler game. Reverse this by closing your eyes or wearing a blind fold and let your toddler lead you around your house. They will love the responsibility of taking care of you and it’s weirdly releasing to let your child be in control for a change!
*Role play really helps with language and communication and these are key to their future learning. Find an old chest or cardboard box and fill it with your old clothes and accessories. Make dens and houses with throws or duvets and add props. My youngest once built a whole country at the bottom of our garden. We adults joined in the game, playing our parts as visitors, enjoying the Theatre shows, having our passports stamped and eating dubious food in the restaurants. Immersing yourself in child led imaginative play is hugely therapeutic and terrific fun!
* Future entrepreneurs need to experience some risk taking, so rather than stopping play that worries you, try raising risk awareness by asking questions. “Which way will you come down?” “How can you make sure …. ?” “Does it feel slippery…?” Teaching children how to risk assess activities is a great way to help them decide what they are capable of. If you struggle with this, list the benefits of the activity in your head and see if they outweigh the risks. Climbing, swinging, running, rolling, jumping, throwing- all these have oodles of learning and development opportunities. The strategy of re framing things to look at the positives, also works with behaviours you find unacceptable. Which bits are learning experiences that could be beneficial in the adult world?
*The laughing game, (where you start to laugh for no reason and see how quickly others spontaneously join in) is infectious and healing. It feels forced at first, but after a minute or two, will become genuine. (P.S no tickling or ridicule involved!)
Finally, as the porcupine in my Nipper Cards says. “Inside every grown-up is a little child and inside every child is a wise adult”. Look for your inner child and recognise your child’s inner adult!