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Decoding Child Communication: Strengthening Bonds Through Play

Parenting is a journey filled with both joys and challenges, and one of the most puzzling aspects for many parents is understanding their child's communication. Every parent aspires to be the superhero their child turns to with their problems, but sometimes it can feel like trying to extract information from a stubborn rock. The COVID-19 lockdowns brought additional concerns for parents, including their children's emotional well-being, with anxiety, mood swings, and impaired social skills becoming prevalent issues. Many parents found themselves overwhelmed, lacking the necessary tools to help their children cope, and worried that these challenges were more than just a passing phase. During this challenging time, I introduced a new tool into my practice: Biofeedback, playfully nicknamed "the lie detector" by the children because it displayed their emotional states on a screen. What surprised me most was that many children's stress levels spiked when asked about their feelings. Answering this seemingly simple question proved to be an overwhelming task for many kids.

If the Usual Approach Doesn't Work, Try Something Different

Parents often wonder why their child seems reserved or uncommunicative. Some even admit, "They get it from me." Parents who desire better communication with their children soon realize that they need to adjust their role modeling. It's no surprise that asking a child, "How was your day?" typically garners a response like "okay" when parents aren't sharing their own day with their child. This insight led me to a critical question: “How can I help both parents and kids connect and develop social-emotional skills together?”

Playing It Forward

Reflecting on my own upbringing, I recognized that I wasn't a strong communicator. My parents, while successful in raising us with confidence and without fear, didn't prioritize communication at home. It wasn't until I made friends who were open about their feelings that I realized what I was missing. 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 effort, and there were awkward moments, but we got there. This introspection led me to ponder, “How can I leverage my personal journey to empower other parents?”

The Power of Play

Throughout my years of working with children, I encountered some who embraced acupuncture, while others declared 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 shifted to having fun, they would always receive some type of treatment. The key was to allow them to cooperate on their terms, using play and fun as a disguise. Recognizing the pivotal role that play played in facilitating communication between children and parents, I decided to create play-based tools that would be fun for kids and empower parents in building the family communication they dream of. I introduced five characters, each representing different elements within us: Ryangry (wood), Dramamia (fire), Pleasington (earth), Perfectron (metal), and Fearolina (water). This approach made it easy for kids to connect with these characters, creating a bridge for effective communication.

When Parents Play

Engaging in social-emotional learning games with your children can lead to remarkable outcomes. One of the most notable is that parents often face a new challenge – overcoming their own embarrassment in sharing their mistakes, failures, fears, and other emotions with their child. Initially, it may feel awkward, but this process helps parents understand why their child wasn't open with them and empowers them to take action. Another wonderful outcome is that children notice they now have an open door for communication and can choose to enter it. Parents have shared stories of their children approaching them with “Let’s Share” cards, using them as an excuse to share unrelated stories. Through these cards, parents gained insights into their child's inner world, including issues they were experiencing at school. Once you open the door to play-based social-emotional learning, you can get creative and help your child learn to share their feelings, brainstorm coping strategies, and, most importantly, have fun while strengthening the bonds that will last a lifetime.

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.

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