Does one of your children tend to get heard more than the other? Perhaps one is older and more dominant, and younger eager to please. Perhaps one is extrovert, always talking, and the other is an introvert, mostly happy to observe. Or maybe one is stubborn and resists your requests – and lets you know all about it – while the other is compliant and helps easily, sometimes without prompting.
A less dominant child doesn’t want or need less attention; they are simply less lightly to ask for it. They don't easily express their wants or issues, so their feelings simmer under the surface, bubbling under the radar. It’s easy to lose connection with these children, as they battle along alone while other children race to get noticed, but getting physical is a great way to reconnect.
Games like pillow fighting or wrestling work on many levels. They provide a physical outlet for kids to release. They require few words. And with a great and worthy opponent (you, super parent) putting up a decent fight but, ultimately, losing, your less dominant child is encouraged to rise up and bask in a much deserved glory.
How it Works
Hand in Hand Parenting's Andrea McCracken describes a recent wrestling session with her less dominant child – her three year old daughter, the youngest sister in her family:
“My 3 year old had been very vocal in asking me to wrestle. It seemed that she instinctively knew that she had something to work out.
As the younger sister, she is often flexible and adaptable and follows the rules, even enforcing them with her older sister and her friends. Her older sister often doesn’t listen to questions, requests or demands from her family members. She tends to want to do things “her way.” Each of us gets frustrated with this pattern.
When my youngest was little, she tried to “use her words” but they didn’t always work and she had often resorted to hitting to get her sister's attention. I wanted to interrupt that pattern and so I started making sure that they each got some wrestling time.
Although they each played, my main focus was making sure my youngest had power and control during the sessions. I saw that due to her age and size and being the younger, adaptable person in the family, her desires had often gone unmet. Wrestling gave her a time to shine, to break out, and to find her voice. She could be fierce, she could roar or growl. She punched pillows.
She started to understand that she had an outlet for her anger and frustration. One day she started to cry out of nowhere. This release was welcome because she tends to keep her feelings in.
When it happened, I grabbed a large sofa pillow and encouraged her to knock me over. She needed resistance – something to but up against to let her frustration rise up. She charged at my sofa pillow and pushed me over, and then she cried harder. In between bouts I gave her hugs, allowing her to release even more tension.
This happened the night she asked me to wrestle. Afterwards, I found that she seemed, finally, to relax, and she went off easily and effortlessly to bed, much more content.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox
When a child pushes and pummels against resistance, thoughts and emotions course through their bodies. As they gain confidence in this type of play, aggression plays out in power strength moves, and sometimes the release, and the added safety of your connection, gives them what they need to really let go and let off steam through shouts or tears.
This is all good. You hear a lot about what your dominant children think and feels. An outburst from your less dominant child helps right that imbalance. Wrestling and other physical play may not require a child to say many words at all, but it is an ideal way to make sure that they feel heard.
Here are three physical play games you might like to try:
- Pillow Fighting: A good-old fashioned pillow fight offers a natural way to release worry and stress with giggles guaranteed.
- Socks off: From master of playful parenting Larry Cohen, in this game each of you tries to pull off the other’s socks. The winner is whoever achieves this first (naturally, this will be your child!).
- Push Me, Pull Me: Lie on a bed, mattress or sofa and insist that your child cannot push or pull you off before you push or pull them off. Simple, but effective.
Physical games like these are part of a tool we call Playlistening. Letting a child lead the play and win the game builds their confidence and safety levels, making it a transforming way to build connection. Download 6 Classic Playlistening Games here.
You might also find that your child unleashes some burdens, talking a lot, or crying. During these times, try following your play with another tool called Staylistening. Read My Story: How Staylistening Helped My Family and Inspired Me and Staylistening to get out the door. For more details about this inspirational approach, download our booklets on How Children's Emotions Work.