As Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and child attachment specialist, launches her new book ‘15 Minute Parenting’ today, we have invited her to share insights into the simple things we can do to foster relationships and support the social and emotional development of our children. Who would have known that a simple balloon could be such an effective engagement tool!
Our children want our presence not our presents. Sounds like the kind of cute sound-bite that makes you want to roll your eyes doesn’t it. But it’s more than that. Research conducted by the UN into child happiness and wellbeing in developed countries shows that children might well take the stuff we give them but they would give it all back to get extra time with their parents. And time is often the one thing we feel we do not have to give our children when we are flat out juggling a dozen things each day.
So how do you make this work? How do you give your children your presence in a time poor society where being busy has almost become a badge of honour? After 20 years of working with children and parents my parenting philosophy is simple…small changes really do make big differences and good enough truly is good enough.
Rather than trying to squeeze a week of fun and connectivity into your weekends, which can result in it all getting a little manic and chaotic take a “little but often” approach. Spending 15 minutes of mindful play with your children each day is a small change that can pack a big punch. This is because being predictably available to our children each day is reassuring to them and when they know that they will have this positive and playful time with us each day they are less likely to behaviourally act out to seek a connection with us.
Play is quite the buzz-word these days with the American Academy of Paediatrics calling on doctors to prescribe play for children. The reason for this is that play is the language of children; it is how they communicate with us and it is how they process their experiences of their world and the people and events in that world. We have to provide limitless opportunity for our children to play, to be in the moment and to engage with their environment in a creative and imaginative way that will support their social and emotional development. Screen (device) society is sabotaging children’s access to this kind of free, unstructured and imaginative play and this is resulting in a negative impact on our children’s language development, development of important life skills such as learning to negotiate with others and manage stress, and figure out how to problem solve, consider others perspectives and focus on the task at hand without becoming distracted.
When you consider all of those pro-social benefits and maybe reflect on the role of screen-based devices in our adult lives, perhaps you’ll agree that we could all benefit from 15 minutes of mindful play each day. And don’t worry if you think that you cannot play, your children are experts in play and they will happily teach you how.
15-Minute Parenting: All you need is a balloon
Balloon punch – blow the balloon up and hold it out away from your body by the knot at the top. Invite your child to stand, saying their feet are like cement and cannot move but on your cue they can punch the balloon like a punch bag. A great way to help your child take their cue from the adult in charge, to work on impulse control as they must wait for your cue and a positive way to release any aggression without hurting themselves or others
Balloon between bodies – kneel down so that you are (roughly) the same height as your child. Place the blown-up balloon between your bodies (tummy to tummy for example) and say that you must keep the balloon there with no hands. Now take a walk around the room together ensuring the balloon doesn’t move. This is a good one for physical boundaries as if you get too close the balloon will burst and if not close enough the balloon will fall.
Balloon keep up – Challenge each other to keep a balloon up in the air for as long as possible without letting it hit the floor. Increase the level of challenge by setting a body part to use i.e. just our pointer fingers, fists, elbows etc. This is a great one for building confidence by working collaboratively on a challenging activity and for encouraging teamwork between sibling’s/family members.
Joanna Fortune is a psychotherapist and author of 15-Minute Parenting,
which is published by Gill Books and is available now in bookstores and online at €14.99