Children who are displaying problematic behaviors such as having difficulty managing their emotions, having aggressive behaviors, or who often act whiny or needy may benefit from attachment-based activities. This is particularly true if the child has experienced challenges during the first few years of life. Attachment-based activities can also be helpful for children who may have experienced some trauma or even less severe stressful situations. These activities are even useful for well-behaving, happy children.
Attachment-based activities are essential and beneficial for all children
If you are a parent and your relationship with your child has been strained for any reason, if you and your child don’t seem to be getting along very well, or if you simply want to strengthen the relationship between you and your child, attachment-based activities can help to do that.
Attachment-based activities are activities that enhance the attachment between the child and parent. Attachment is the bond that children develop with their primary caregivers in the first few years of life. This attachment is extremely influential on how the child relates to others, the nature of their relationships, and how they view themselves and, other people, and the world for the rest of their life. This is not to say that what happens in the first few years of life is totally deterministic of the child’s outcome. There is the possibility that later experiences and the child’s internal processes and personality can alter the effects that early attachment may have (in a positive or negative way).
5 Attachment-Based Activities:
1. Playful Copycat (or Mirroring the Child)
This activity does not necessarily require any physical items or toys. All it takes is having the parent and child both present and ready to interact with each other. The basic idea for this activity is to have the parent playfully copy what the child is doing, such as by having the child begin by clapping his hands together and having the parent clap their hands in the same volume and speed as the child. When the child changes his style of clapping (such as louder or softer), the parent should imitate the child. Eye contact, smiles, and laughs are also helpful to promote a healthy relationship and repair or enhance attachment. Mirroring can also be done with other activities, such as jumping, playing with toys, or facial expressions.
2. Bean Bag Game
Have the child place a bean bag or another soft toy that is fairly easy to balance on top of his head. Have the parent sit in front of the child and place her hands in front of her. The child is then directed to tip his head forward to try to get the bean bag in the parent’s hands. The child should tip his head when the parent blinks her eyes. (This will promote eye contact.) Have the parent use as much eye contact as possible. Again, it is important for the parent and child to have fun with this activity. Laughter has been found to be healing and can help to repair and enhance a relationship. (activity adapted from Walton)
3. Piggy-Back Rides
Piggy-back rides can help to strengthen parent-child relationships and repair or enhance attachment because they involve fun and physical closeness. When children are babies, they need plenty of physical contact with their parents. Babies thrive not only from being fed and kept physically safe, but also from feeling the comfort and security of having their parent close to them.
4. Lotion Massage
Using lotion to massage a child’s hands or feet can enhance attachment and strengthen a parent-child relationship. The massage can relax a person’s physical body by reducing tension and bringing the brain into a less defensive state.
5. Brushing Hair
Sometimes girls can be fussy about getting their hair brushed, especially if they have experienced pain from well-meaning parents brushing their hair too hard. However, allowing a daughter to gently brush her mother’s hair and having a mother gently brush her daughter’s hair can be an activity that can promote connection. This can be a calming activity that includes a sense of nurturing which connects to a person’s internal experience of attachment and bonding.
- By Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA