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Top 5 ways to Incorporate Play with Your Children

We attended the symposium as a guest of Disneyland

In the end, it is all about having fun playing together as a family together. Family bonding, which creates positive relationships, is THE MOST IMPORTANT and CRITICAL element of rearing children that grow up to become good, kind, helpful, smart and charitable adults. Disneyland Resort, hosted a symposium where 60 non-profit organizations that focus on helping families, came together to learn about the importance of helping to support families.


The symposium, highlighted overwhelming research that demonstrated the key to success in bringing up healthy children, is fostering positive relationships with the people who are raising them. This should not come as a surprise to most of us as it seems to be self-evident. It is also clear that good, strong families are the building blocks for a good society.

While parents love their children and have the best intentions for them, many of us can easily become distracted as we’re pulled in so many different directions. Work responsibilities, responding to e-mails and texts, in addition to daily life tasks, such as; laundry, dishes, picking up the house, driving kids to school, helping kids with their homework, and making sure the kids get to their extracurricular activities. This can easily cause parents to lose sight of what is important, and forget to play with their children.

Play is a powerful tool that bonds us to one another. When feeling over-stressed and notice that it is not enjoyable with your kids or even your spouse as it was in the past, take it as a sign to stop and play with your family.

Play releases feel-good chemicals in the brain and creates happy memories that your children and even your spouse will remember, and look back on the memories and smile. While we know that it is a child’s job is to play; why not come into the equation and play with your child? Here are some tips on how to play with your child, and better facilitate a lasting positive relationship.


For younger children:
1. Attunement/Nurturing play: Attunement play is critical in helping the baby/child know that their parents is enjoying them, and sharing in the delight of playing together. The child experiences the emotion of joy. During attunement play, the parent and child make good eye contact. The parent smiles with joy, and the baby smiles back. This creates what is “attunement.”

Some examples of Attunement play are:

  • Cuddling/rocking
  • Giving different kinds of kisses such as, butterfly kisses (having your eyelashes touch each other), Eskimo kisses (rubbing your noses together), and elephant kisses (seal between the parent’s mouth and the child’s belly, arm or thigh and then blowing.)
  • Sing a personalized version of the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to be creative! (Twinkle twinkle little star, what a [handsome boy] you are nice [brown] hair and soft soft checks, bright [green] eyes from which you peek).

2. Challenge play: The intention of challenge play is to encourage the child to try something new, control tension-arousing experiences, and deepen feelings of competence. It helps a child to have realistic expectations of him/herself and also encourages a sense of mastery. This play helps a child feel confident.

Some examples of Challenge play are:

  • Blow a cotton ball to the wall in 10 blows
  • Hide and seek
  • Thumb/arm wrestle
  • Red light green light and add hand signals to go along with the words

3. Engagement play: The purpose of engagement play is to create and sustain a connection with your child. Engaging a child, for long periods of time, entices the child into enjoying new pleasurable interactions and moments with their parents. The result of engagement play is that the child learns to communicate, share intimacy and enjoy interpersonal contact.

Some examples of engagement play are:

  • Blow bubbles and pop them with different body parts
  • Place a sticker on nose (Put a sticker on your nose and go “beep” with the child’s finger, then place the sticker on your child’s hand and go “beep” repeat the pattern with different body parts).
  • Play peek-a-boo

4. Structure play: Structured play is about having parents create and set boundaries which allows for a child’s safety, well-being and survival. Results of successful structure play include the child enjoying physical and emotional security and the child understanding and learning about his/her environment. Parents who are consistent with creating and implementing structure, the message conveyed to the child, is that they cared for and safe.

Some examples of Structure play are:

  • Have your toddler push you over, rolling on your back, when you give them a signal (“Ready, set, go) and then “fly” your child on your knees.
  • Motor Boat (Hold hands and walk in a circle, vary your speed according to the words: “Motor boat, motor boat go so slow; motor boat motor boat go so fast; motor boat, motor boat step on the gas.”
  • Play patty-cake
  • Make a stack of hands alternating between your hand and your child’s hand then move your bottom hand to the top of the stack. Do it either fast/slow; in a funny way but so a person can copy it.

5. Reading time together: Having a set reading time together is another way we play with your children. Reading allows us to snuggle up with a book and lets both the parent and child slow down and enjoy snuggle time together. Reading should not be seen as a chore or task but rather as an activity to bring you and your child closer together. It is also helpful in developing your child’s speech skills as they learn critical language and enunciation skills. Reading time also allows a parent to teach their child a “feelings” vocabulary which will help the child communicate and express him/herself better.

Some examples of how to enhance Reading time together:

  • Ask your child how the different characters are feeling and what clues were there to let them know about the different feelings.
  • Ask your child if they have ever felt the feeling they just named.
  • Ask your child what they think might happen next in the story.
  • Ask your child if they would do things differently than the characters did in the story.

If you are a playful family or want to become the most playful family in America, you can enter the KaBOOM! along with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts contest and win a family vacation to either Disneyland or Disney World. To get more information and to enter the contest visit

Stay tuned for how to be playful with your teen; they want to have fun with you too and they need play as much as your younger children do!

Courtney Harkins is a local licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and mother to three young children. She runs a private practice as well as works with children at various organizations in Orange County. She specializes in adoption and parent child attachment, and is currently a doctoral candidate for clinical psychology.

Center for childhood creativity (2013). Shared discoveries: positive parent-child relationships and child development. White paper presented at Disney Discover Together Symposium , Anaheim, California.
Jernberg, A.M., & Booth, P.B. (2010). Theraplay: Helping parents and children build better relationships through attachment-based play (3rd ed). Sand Francisco, CA: Jossey-BAss.
Search institute (2012). The american family assets study. Presented at Disney Discover Together Symposium , Anaheim, California.
Siegel, D., (2013). Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain. New Work: Penguin Group.

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