I was lamenting to my mother about some of the painful and difficult behavior we witnessed daily with our boys. Both Husband and I regularly felt drained and at a loss about what to do. My mother, who is a therapist, suggested play therapy for both of them, and just to clarify, she did not mean that we should take them to a therapist. She meant that we could apply basic play therapy techniques at home.
Once again, it is necessary for me to say here that I am not a qualified counselor or anything close to that, so these are the thoughts of a mom sharing with you what is and what is not working with my kids.
Husband and I structured our mornings so that after breakfast, teeth brushing and clothes-changing, we took one child each and spent an hour of focused play time with him. We set aside 8:30-9:30am for this. Most of the time, it is one-on-one, focused play time, but three times a week, I try to have more of a play therapy type approach to our time.
We stay in a confined space like the living room or a bedroom or outside, and there are a few toys that I have set up. Then I let my sons play with whatever they wanted, not intervening at all, just letting them direct their own play time. I only observed and made comments like, You put the axe in the fireman’s hand, the hook is pulling the police car, etc.
There are no quick fixes for any parenting issue, and certainly there is absolutely no quick fix for the slow, deep work of character development in our children, but the hour I spent with my sons individually produced incredible fruit in our relationship. Play time reveals something much deeper to me about my children, and it gives them a safe place to work out their own emotions.
It slows down the morning chaos. We found that the time between wake up and post-breakfast was often the most drama-and-tension-filled for the four of us, and it helped to separate our kids, it helped slow Husband and myself down. Play time with a child is slow, pure work. There isn’t an agenda, it is simply time spent with my child to give him my full, undivided attention as he does the work of a child: play, play, play.
They were immediately aware that they were getting quality one-on-one time with us, and they relished this. They felt seen, known and loved. In a time when we are focused on many, many other things (that we have to focus on), they are easily overlooked, but this hour was about them, their interests, their needs, their wants, they thrived in this place.
There was no reason to tell them no in this hour. They were only playing, and so far I haven’t seen a way for them to defy or disobey us in this time. They loved being able to do whatever they want, I loved being able to say yes as much as I could. It helped me let go of control and let my boys just be.
They opened up and talked while they played about things they didn’t normally talk about. One morning while he was playing with the fire truck, Big Boy started talking about how he missed Stockholm, the yellow house and the rocks in our driveway. He climbed in my lap, I miss my toys, Mommy, the ones that are on the ship to Australia, he seemed genuinely sad about this but also happy to be able to share his feelings. It gave me valuable insight into his heart in this time, it deeply bothers him not to have his toys. It explains frustrating moments of defiance related to sharing toys with other kids and his brother, and while it never justifies it, I need this insight into his heart. It helps me parent him better, it helps me pray, it helps me empathize.
It helped me to pay closer attention to the non-play times because let’s face it, what is going on in my kids’ heart isn’t necessarily number one on my priority list when I am trying to get things done. A few weeks after we left Sweden, Big Boy was playing and told me he was packing and to tell him when it’s Saturday because he would have to load the container then. Oh, I said, playing along, and where is the container going?
To Stockholm, he said, without missing a beat.
A tiny role play, but it said something about his heart. I want to go back to Stockholm, that’s what he was trying to tell me. Another evening, after a day of pretending to be a bird making a nest, he and I were going to his bedroom to make a nest for him to sleep in for the night. He was changing his clothes when he said, I miss my nest in Stockholm, so I pulled him into my arms, and we talked about his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet cover, his white bed, and all the things about his nest in Stockholm that he missed. We talked about Jesus, how he left his nest in heaven to live on earth, and how he must have felt sad, too. We talked about sadness, why it is good to feel sad. And we talked about how thankful we are that we have a nest in Germany.
Husband and I had the luxury of time because neither of us were working, but if you find that you don’t have the ability to divide up your kids because of time or because you have more kids, find creative ways to get alone time with your children. Swap kids with another parent in your community, take one of our kids out in the evening when your spouse is home, use one child’s naptime to have focused play time with another child, put a movie on for a few of your kids and take one outside to play, and if you have other creative ideas about how to spend one-on-one time with your kids, please do share it in the comments section.