Playful exaggeration – Attachment Play when you are tired, fed up or just plain desperate!

This game is probably going to sound ridiculous, but it arose out of desperation. One afternoon, my son was not listening or cooperating, and I was feeling tired and fed up. I was trying to get something to happen (I can’t remember what), and I wasn’t getting anywhere with it. I knew that the connection between the two of us had gone out the window, and that some kind of Attachment Play would help, but I certainly wasn’t feeling very playful. I really didn’t have much in me to give at all, and I was feeling kind of stuck. I didn’t know in the split second between having the idea and trying it out whether it would fly or flop, but I was pretty desperate and didn’t really have anything to lose! I just wanted something to shift! So I gave it a go.

I said to my son, “Oh no! I think I’m going to fall on top of you!”, and I collapsed on top of him and went kind of limp. He laughed, so I continued. I sort of hung over the top of his body, and he started to move around, dragging me around the house (with a little bit of assistance from me, carrying some of my own body weight). I made funny groaning noises, “Eerggh!”, and he laughed some more. So I kept on going until the laughter eased and it felt like the game had come to its natural conclusion. In a sense, I was playfully exaggerating the way I was feeling, I was “over it”, I didn’t want to be in charge any more and I was happy for my son to carry the load (me!) for a while. Of course, I wasn’t aware of all the symbolism in those moments, I was just doing what came to me. It was a lovely physical way of connecting, and because I found it fun and funny, it gave me a lift too!

Another similar ridiculous game I’ve been playing regularly with my son is the “Squash you” game. When his behavior is starting to get off track, and I don’t have anything more creative to offer, I say, “You look like you need to be squashed!”. I lie on top of him (again, holding some of my own weight) and give him a few gentle squashes with my body, making a funny grunting noise, “Ehh, ehh, ehh!”. It gets laughs and brings physical closeness and connection. In another version, I “crash tackle” him, which looks more like running over, picking him up and landing him on a pile of pillows before playfully squashing him. It is like a “mock attack”, but really it is soft, gentle and full of love. And it is relatively easy for me to do, even when I’m feeling tired and fed up.

These games are in a similar vein to what Hand in Hand Parenting calls the “Vigorous Snuggle” (http://www.handinhandparenting.org/2009/08/the-vigorous-snuggle/). Patty Wipfler says, “You make physical contact. You play. You act with warmth and humor. You stop the behavior he’s caught in, but you do it with nonverbal, generous “I want to be close to you” gestures.” In a way, these games are also playfully exaggerating what I would really like to do when my son is behaving in ways I find annoying, and allow me to release some of my frustration. But they are warm, get us both laughing, and help us to reconnect. And the connection resulting from only a few minutes of this type of play often restores my son’s willingness to listen and cooperate, which is a definite bonus!

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2 thoughts on “Playful exaggeration – Attachment Play when you are tired, fed up or just plain desperate!

  1. Nice 🙂 These physical squashing type games are also used a lot in occupational therapy for kids who have trouble regulating. Proprioceptive feedback or something like that! I always forget the names, but we’ve been ‘squashing’ our son for years! 😉

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  2. Thanks KL. And I love hearing that you’ve been squashing your son for years! 😉 I didn’t know that, but I remember that kids on the spectrum often particularly enjoy squashing. That brings to mind Temple Grandin’s story about the development of her ‘hug machine’.

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