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Helping our child through Lockdown. Let them build a den.

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

As we make our way through another week of lockdown, many of us will be trying to find new creative ways to keep our children busy. Whether you’re a working parent or not, this is tough!

Usually, we can get a break from entertaining our kids by taking them out to play centres or parks where they can interact with other children. They go to nursery, school or their grandparent's house, where they can fulfil their need for new play ideas, activities and undivided attention!

And while I know there’s a big part of us that recognises that this is an amazing opportunity to spend time together, I also want to acknowledge that doing this 24/7 is a challenge, and it can be hard to think of new things to do! Besides, our children just like us are starting to feel the intensity of this situation. The novelty has worn off for many, and big emotions may be beginning to show. As parents, we may be finding hard to contain our own emotions and have very little capacity to contain the emotions of our children too.

So I would like to encourage you to give yourself permission to have a break and to be kind to yourself. You do not have to put together a full timetable of creative activities every day. Our children need time for free play, and time to process their emotions. This situation is new to us all and we are just simply trying to find our way through. You are doing enough!

Over the next few weeks I thought I would share with you some play activities which often appear in my work as a Play & Family Therapist, and in my home with my children too. I also wanted to share with you some reasons behind why these play activities are so beneficial to our children, and a few simple tips to help your child cope with their emotions at this time.

To start with, I’m going to talk about play through Den Building! My 3-year-old loves building dens and I know that many of his friends love doing the same. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve found myself in dens when I work in therapy with children too.

But why is building a den such a great activity and how does it help with processing our emotions?

Children love to explore and create, and building a den lends itself to imaginative and creative play. Allowing children the freedom to build something from their imagination is a wonderful way to help develop their resilience and encourage problem-solving. Allowing your child to think creatively and to put their ideas into action can feel extremely rewarding and satisfying. Importantly, in this time where they are feeling powerless and out of control, it gives them something to be in control of. Providing opportunities for your child to be in charge of something can stop their need to become controlling at other times of the day (eg when you’re trying to get them to do their homework or put their pj's on) and can help if they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

While building, and once the den is built, it becomes a space for role play.

This is extremely beneficial for children of all ages as it enables them to make sense of their world and provides an opportunity for them to play out situations they may be trying to process. As adults we talk things through with someone if we are feeling worried or lost, children tend to play it through instead.

For example, when we watch the news about COVID-19, we might talk to our partner about what we’ve just heard. We ask questions, we share our emotions and we reassure each other. Children often find it difficult to be able to talk about things that are worrying them, but when they are given time and space to play, they can communicate better either through the use of play or the play helps them find the words.

As a Play Therapist, I spend a lot of time playing with children in Role Play. And I have seen some really powerful moments when a child has been able to work through a problem they are experiencing via the use of play. I would like to encourage you to spend a few minutes listening to your child as they play, and hear what they are acting out. We can learn a lot about how our child is feeling through the roles they put themselves in to during a play activity such as den building.

Just today my 3-year-old asked me to help him build a den. He had strong ideas on how he wanted it to be built but became frustrated when it wouldn’t work out how he expected. Through my adult lens, I could see why the den was falling, but instead of jumping in to rescue him and tell him how to build it, I sat back and tried to coach the emotions I was seeing him display. Using phrases like “I can see you’re finding this really hard today, I’m here if you would like any help” or “the den is falling to pieces today, it’s not strong like the one we built yesterday”. He then explained to me that he wanted this den to have sides so that he could hide inside and go to sleep because he was feeling tired. So we created a very private space together with cushions and blankets, he climbed inside and relaxed with his toys. He got what he needed, and I was able to understand a little more about how he was feeling and how I could help him regulate his emotions.

Wherever and however your child chooses to build their den it is a little home away from home. It gives them a sense of privacy and independence away from parents or siblings. It’s a safe space that’s just for them to be themselves. It’s a space without judgement or rules where your child can get lost in their thoughts. I feel that there is something really special in being able to have a space that you have created just as you want it, and you can be in it just as you want to.

Let’s do this...

You can make a den from pretty much anything, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sheets, blankets or duvet covers

  • Pillows

  • Tarpaulin

  • Pegs

  • String

  • Furniture such as chairs or tables

  • Branches

  • Cardboard boxes

Play Therapist Top Tips

  • Let them be the architect!!

If you can allow your child to be in control of how the den is built. Provide resources, and help if you’re invited or asked, but try if you can to let them be in charge. The main benefit of den building is that the child gets to create something that is what they need at that moment.

  • Validate their emotions

Try to pick up on how your child is feeling and name the emotion for them. By doing this it will help them to feel noticed and also provides them with words to be able to tell you how they are feeling.

  • Give them space and time

Try to balance out the types of play on offer to your children. Let your children have time for free play as much as scheduled activities. And if you can try to join in and play with them for a little as 10 mins, but make sure during this time you can offer them your undivided attention (see previous blog post on The Power of Play).

Keep in touch by subscribing for further blogs on popular play activities and why they are so beneficial to our children’s development and our family relationships.

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