At a recent family reunion in Michigan, I got to enjoy spending time with my nephews and admiring how my step-brothers and their spouses parent their children. One evening, the family was laughing and enjoying pleasant conversation while three toddlers were playing around and occasionally getting into trouble.
In the midst of multiple conversations, boisterous laughs, baby noises, clinking dishware and silverware, I watched as my step-sister-in-law tried to listen, contribute to conversation, hold one baby, feed him, put him down, pick him up again, block out the noise of other conversations being carried, and keep an eye on her other son all while trying to remain present with whom she was talking to. Meanwhile, her oldest son kept reaching for heirlooms and trinkets and constantly being asked to put it back as he gestured to throw them on the floor. He would put it back, only to reach for it seconds later and try again, only to be met with increased demands to put the items back. Eventually, my nephew kept getting put in and out of timeout for not listening to his mom. Annoyance grew between the two of them as the timeout cycle repeated and I noticed that they both started to feel at a loss.
For many parents, chaotic moments similar to this seemingly happen hundreds of times a day: in the car going to and from school, at the dinner table, in the morning, during bedtime, in public, or while with family or friends. They are exhausting, the senses are overloaded, patience is thin, and children resist correction with all their might. At the end of the day when the head hits the pillow, it can feel like they win more often than not.
If your child feels like a wrecking ball or tornado, it is so counterintuitive, but moments like these are when your child needs to connect with you. If time allows, carve out a little play time for 10-15 minutes. If you can give more time, great! Stay present with the play. The play allows for both of you to get your pent up energy to discharge while simultaneously enjoying each other’s company. This allows for both you and the child’s body and brain to reset and be more open to revisiting problem behaviors.
Play can seem like the last tool to use in chaotic, noisy situations. Odds are your shared frustrations is on your child’s mind too and they are struggling with communicating with you. But play is how children problem-solve and navigate conflict-resolution. It can be helpful for the body to blow some steam and allow for the brain to hear correction better and more clearly.