Playfully Regaining Co-operation through Connection


Connection thru Play quote sm

guest post by Claire Battersby


Isn’t it frustrating when a child rebels or resists our help?

In those moments, it can feel like we’re emotionally drifting away from each other as we argue over details that seem urgent at the time.

Through lots of trial and error with many children I’ve cared for over the years, I’ve found that building the bridge is much more important than it seems in the heat of the moment. Emotional connection with us creates a safe, trusting and nurturing feeling for children, which enables them to think, learn, co-operate and thrive. I’m very grateful that I learned the value of play to process emotional hurts and fulfill unmet needs from Naomi Aldort and Aletha Solter’s books.

Playing with children doesn’t come easily to me but it’s a very powerful way to connect with children, and so it’s well worth the effort.

Going with the flow

I try to make it very clear when I’m playing and when I’m seriously holding a boundary by my tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. Children are often told what to do and when to do it. Of course, children need boundaries, yet they also need some autonomy too. I try to help children regain balance by being their play assistant and letting them take the lead during a connection play session.

For instance, if a child runs away from their pajamas that I’m holding, I beam a smile and take lots of little steps towards them and dramatically keep letting them get away. I find that the rest of the bedtime routine goes smoother after this game. I know that giving each child your full attention can be impossible with multiple children, but it’s worth a try. Putting your phone on silent and turning off screens might make focusing easier.

If a child chooses a game that has a winner, I discreetly make sure they win if they need to emotionally regulate or gain confidence.

I try to keep an open mind and be non-judgmental about what they play. It’s good to remember that negative emotions tend to restrict logical thinking skills, and it’s common for them to act younger in these sort of play sessions. I try to avoid using sarcasm or joking with children because this can be disconnecting and can hurt, even if it’s well-intentioned. Children are very literal in their view of life and what is said to them. They are developmentally unable to understand the subtlety of statements made to them in jest. If they whine or cry it’s possible that they could be processing past hurts. A valuable tool I use to support a child through this is to allow them to safely express their emotions while I use non-judgmental validation such as “Aww, you’ve got some deep feelings. Are you feeling sad?”

Child’s play can be very boring, tiring and repetitive for us, but connection play sessions are most effective if the child decides when it ends. When I feel frustrated I remind myself of all the benefits the child (and by extension I) will receive if I stick with this important play session. I also use discreet deep breathing when I find it’s getting too much. However, if I feel like I’m going to lose my cool I find an excuse to do something else.

A Real Life Example

Here’s an example of how play turned rebelliousness into co-operation recently. I regularly care for a 6-year-old that I’ll call Rachel and her 20-month-old brother I’ll name Luke. A little background is that these children don’t see much of their parents because they are very dedicated to their restaurant.

One evening Rachel was downright refusing to get ready for bed even though I stayed calm, kind and gave her choices about having a bath (not having a bath was OK with her parents) and 3 sets of pyjamas to choose from. However, Rachel stood, arms crossed, and said with a scowl, “You can’t make me!”

I replied “You’re right. I can’t” and walked across the room thinking through my options.

It occurred to me that her reasoning ability and logical thinking were restricted because she was consumed by the negative emotions she was feeling. I figured Rachel needed more autonomy and emotional connection before she would be able to follow directions. I have discovered previously that Rachel needs time alone to cool off when she feels angry, so I helped her willing little brother get ready for bed while she watched TV.

Just before I was planning to sing Luke to sleep Rachel enthusiastically suggested that we play a game. I glanced at Luke who was happily, and alertly playing alone and remembered how their parents were flexible about bedtimes. I knew how important this opportunity was in helping Rachel emotionally process and feel important, which is an ongoing need as an older sibling. I quickly agreed and with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, I asked what she would like to play.

In the living room, we played tag, patting an air-filled balloon to keep afloat, football (soccer) and a pretend game about dogs and puppies. Rachel happily took the lead right the way through. She started off making a big deal about me losing while ignoring or explaining away her mistakes (which I went along with that day).

I noticed that during the pretend game Rachel relaxed and softened. When she pondered out loud “Umm. What should we play next?” I enthusiastically said “I know! Let’s pretend at getting ready for bed.” When I saw no resistance I grabbed the two fresh sets of pajamas that I had sneaked out during our pretend game. I held up each set trying to imitate the characters on the tops while asking which one she wanted. I attempted to sing the theme tune of the one Rachel chose, which she helped me out with while she changed. It felt like an emotional bridge between us had been mended and peace was restored. After I sang Luke to sleep, Rachel happily chose to brush her teeth first and then her hair and we shared a story.

This session affected subsequent nights where she also co-operated during the routine.

Be Easy On Ourselves

I know that results and opportunities can be easily missed. Life is often messy and that’s OK. Sometimes all we can do in the heat of the moment is to make a mental note to play with our children when we can fit it into our busy day. We are all doing our best and we keep trying to improve, and that’s what counts.


Claire Battersby is a qualified nanny and child advocate. She’s on a compelling journey as a childcare provider from being reactive and controlling towards being respectful and calm. Learning about how children react to the way we treat them really fascinates Claire. She is truly grateful for how much children have taught her about themselves, herself and life in general. Claire blogs on {} along with her mum Patricia Hope who’s a tutor. Stay in the loop about our discoveries by signing up here {} and join our Facebook community. {}


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