Introduction: Parents often grapple with the challenge of deciphering their child’s communication skills. They aspire to be the go-to superheroes their little ones confide in, yet it can sometimes feel like extracting information from a rock. The COVID-19 lockdowns heightened concerns about children’s emotional well-being, leading to increased anxiety, mood swings, and impaired social skills. Many parents felt overwhelmed, lacking the tools to help their children cope with these challenges, and worried that these issues might persist beyond a phase. It was during this time that a novel tool was introduced in my practice: Biofeedback, playfully referred to by children as “the lie detector” because it displayed their emotional states on a screen. Surprisingly, stress levels often spiked when asked about their feelings, revealing that answering this seemingly simple question was an overwhelming task for many kids.
If It Doesn’t Work, Play It Differently: Parents who wonder why their child appears reserved often admit, “They get it from me.” To achieve better communication with their children, parents must adjust their role modeling. Asking a child, “How was your day?” typically elicits a one-word response like “okay.” However, this isn’t surprising when parents don’t share their own day with their child. This realization raises the question, “How can I help both parents and kids connect and learn social-emotional skills together?”
Play it Forward: Growing up, I wasn’t a strong communicator at all. My parents raised us with the focus on not being as strict as they were raised, and they succeeded admirably. We grew up with confidence. However, communication was not a focal point in our home. When I left home and made new friends who were open about their feelings, I felt envious. So, I made a promise to myself: I would work on becoming comfortable with my emotions, and when I had a family of my own, things would be different. I committed myself to fostering closeness between my kids, my future husband, and me. It took hard work, and there were some awkward moments along the way, but we got there! This got me thinking “How can I utilize my personal experience and combine it with my work, to empower parents?”.
Playing It Their Way: Over the years, I encountered some kids who loved acupuncture, but in most cases, children would enter my office declaring their aversion to it. My response was always the same: “No problem, we won’t do anything unless you want to. You’re welcome to play while I chat with mommy/daddy.” I consciously avoided making eye contact with the child unless they initiated it, creating a safe space for them. Eventually, we would all be engaged in some form of play, and while the focus shifts to having fun, they would always receive some type of treatment. The key is to allow them to cooperate on their terms, using play and fun as a disguise.
Creating Play-Based Tools: Recognizing the pivotal role of play in facilitating communication between children and parents, I created 5 characters each representing different elements within us: Ryangry (Wood), Dramamia (Fire), Pleasington (Earth), Perfectron (Metal) and Fearolina (water). These characters aim to make it easy for children to connect with their own emotions. The goal of these characters and the accompanying games is to make it enjoyable for children to work on social-emotional skills under the guise of play, ensuring accessibility for every family.
When Parents Play: Engaging in social-emotional learning games with their children presents parents with a new challenge – overcoming their own embarrassment in sharing their mistakes, failures, fears, and other emotions with their child. However, this initial awkwardness often leads to a deeper understanding of why their child wasn’t open with them. Parents discover ways to create a more open and supportive environment.
Moreover, children notice the newfound openness and feel they have an open door for communication. They willingly initiate conversations, sometimes using tools like “Let’s Share” cards to share unrelated stories that provide insights into their inner world. This process helps parents learn about their child’s experiences and issues they may be facing at school.
Conclusion: Opening the door to play using social-emotional learning not only fosters bonding but also empowers children and parents to share their feelings, brainstorm coping strategies, and have fun together. It’s a powerful tool for building stronger bonds and nurturing healthier communication within families.
About the author: Neta Shani is a pediatric acupuncturist (without needles) with a specialization in Sensory Processing and Emotional Regulation. She is dedicated to helping families and creating play-based tools to empower parents. These tools can be invaluable in helping children develop emotional intelligence and understand their emotions better. By spreading the language of “My E-motions,” her focus is contributing to better communication and emotional well-being among families and children.
If you have any specific questions or would like more information about Neta Shani or her work, please feel free to contact her: [email protected] or [email protected]
Photo by Carlos Magno on Unsplash