By Madeline Vann, M.Ed., NCC, resident in counseling at White Cloud Therapeutic Services, LLC
Summer is the perfect time to have fun with your kids and at the same time, build connection and increase their attention span and focus. Even if they seem not to be listening, children and teens take most of their cues from you. That’s why they are sometimes capable of holding a metaphorical mirror up to us, and letting us see both the good and the “needs improvement” aspects of ourselves. As parents and adults, we can use all that to good ends, however.
Here are some ways to have fun with your kids, and also hone their attention, focus, and attunement:-
⭐Play games with rules that require them to freeze in place. Games like “red light, green light,” “freeze dance,” flashlight tag, and even Simon Says feel like old fashioned fun — and they are also engaging ways to help kids focus and attune to you. Remember to keep the game light and fun. The goal is for everyone to laugh if they make a mistake, and then get better at the game over time.
⭐Rhythm games. I love drumming, drum circles, and making noise with family and friends. Rhythm games, such as picking a simple rhythm and gently challenging your children to either join you or send it back to you, can increase attunement. That means, their ability to pay attention to you and the family and stay in tune. Sometimes I use these kinds of games with groups of in family therapy to build connection and to explore the reasons why some members may find it hard to fall into rhythm with everyone else for a while.
⭐Draw together. Take chalk outside to the sidewalk or other cement floor space and work on a collaborative art piece together. You can also do this indoors on rainy days with finger paints, LEGOs/blocks, or other supplies. As kids get older, you can get more sophisticated with your materials and your co-created concepts.
⭐Silly walking. Take a hike outdoors in nature (by the way – spending time outside as much as possible makes a big difference for kids’ AND teens’ self confidence and attention/focus) and let your child or teen lead for a while, with a silly walk that everyone else copies.
⭐Charades or other improv type games. I am fascinated lately by the rules of improv, especially the “yes, and” rule. Any game you can play with your kids where the rule is that you all engage in the imaginative play together will build connection. Your ability as a parent to say “yes and” (instead of “no” or “try this instead”) can help build confidence and fun.
Here’s a tip for you to make these games even more fun: let your child or teen lead for part of the game. Attunement, attention and focus are dynamic relationship experiences. If letting your child or teen lead seems like risky business, because you aren’t sure what choices they might make, remember that you can set up the rules (both for the game and behavior generally) and the space so that they are leading you within a structure you have created. For example, if you are working on a collaborative are project, you can choose the space and the materials and even the length of time for work, so that the mess is somewhat contained – and then follow along as your child or teen leads you in the art project.
I hope these ideas can be of some use. And I also realize that for some families, if may feel like – for various reasons – it is impossible to have this level of fun or connection. If you’re experiencing some significant conflict, difficulty forgiving one another, or you want some help developing family rules, roles and routines that help build connection, reach out for family therapy. I am going to take this moment to advocate for family therapy, where everyone in the household sits down together to work on their concerns, instead of individual therapy only for one or a few family members. There are definitely times when individual therapy is needed, of course, but to build the connection needed for the kinds of activities I’ve highlighted here, family therapy can be helpful.
If you would like to find out about appointments and availability, reach out to us at White Cloud Therapeutic Services, LLC, at www.whitecloudtherapy.com or 757-503-7917. Madeline Vann, M.Ed., NCC, is a resident in counseling with a focus on family therapy and addiction/recovery.
Article was written and sponsored by Madeline Vann, NCC, M.Ed. at White Cloud Therapeutic Services