When kids’ behaviour becomes unenjoyable – they might be whinging, whining, demanding or making irritating noises, or they might be doing things they know you don’t want them to do, or not doing things they know you would like them to do – it can often be a sign that their EMOTIONAL CUP is feeing a little EMPTY.
What they may be needing is to feel seen, valued and loved by a caregiver, and play can be one of the most efficient ways of giving kids this experience. The types of games that might work can differ, depending on the age of your child. But here’s one I made up when my son was about 5, that was a real hit for a long time. We called it LOVE CREAM.
When I saw my son’s behaviour getting ‘off track’, I would go in and playfully acknowledge that this was probably a sign he was needing a ‘top up’ of love from me. I’d say, “I think you need some Love Cream!”, and rub my hands lightly all over his head and body, pretending to apply the invisible ‘cream’.
I might check in with him to see if it was ‘working’, saying “How are you feeling? Are you feeling loved?”. And if he was still acting out, I would say that it looked like he still wasn’t feeling loved enough, and that he needs more Love Cream! Or maybe I missed a bit, like his little toe?
Sometimes he would run away from me so I couldn’t get him with the Love Cream, leading to some fun power reversal games, where no matter how hard I tried, slow and clumsy Mummy just couldn’t catch him! Usually, he would make sure that I caught him in the end, and that he got his dose of Love Cream!
This kind of play led to lots of laughter, and it was fun and easy for me to switch into in times where I might otherwise have got a bit frustrated and stressed, which could have led to me being harsher with him, and my son’s behaviour getting worse! It was also lovely that sometimes, when he had a sense that he was needing some extra love and attention from me or his step-dad, he would ask for this game.
And the beauty of it is that, as well as having enjoyed some fun play with our kids, we usually find that in refilling their emotional cup, games like this can significantly improve their behaviour. The laughter also helps to release stress and improve mood (for both of us!), so we can then get on with the day feeling more connected and having more ease and enjoyment with our kids.
P.S. This game can also be a great alternative to tickling, giving the warm attention and physical contact, without triggering the fight-or-flight response.
P.P.S. Kids’ ‘off track’ behaviour can also be a sign that they have some uncomfortable feelings – frustration, sadness, disappointment, worry – bubbling up. After a good boost of connection like this, it’s not uncommon for our children to find something to cry over, or to spontaneously tell us what is upsetting them, helping them to offload their feelings. If this happens, the best thing can be to just offer our warm presence and listen, saying a few words to let them know that we hear them, we understand and we care.
Image courtesy of Freepik.