03 May

Family Activities for Emotional Regulation -- see attachment for printout of activities

Benefits of Family Activities Heart to Heart has created a list of specific Family Activities we utilize in therapy and recommend for families at home that are specifically designed to enhance and strengthen parent child bonds and increase regulation skills.  The goals of the Family Activities are to increase positive interactions and regulation through fun, no set up required, short, and easy to do activities.  Regular participation in Family Activities are a valuable experience for both children and caregivers.                

Regulation: The Family Activities are actually types of emotion regulation skills.  In order to learn self-regulation, children must first experience co-regulation.  Co-regulation happens when a child receives emotional and physical support from a calm regulated caregiver.  As a result, the Family Activities offer opportunities for caregivers to demonstrate and experience emotional regulation with their child.  At the same time, the Family Activities can also provide parents skills to model self-regulation as well as tools to teach their children self-regulation skills.  It can also be helpful to mentally note what level of regulation you and your child are both at before starting the Family Activity as well as what level of regulation you are both at when you have completed the Family Activity.  Over time, the Family Activities can be used as tools in scenarios when you and your child want to actively shift from a dysregulated state into a more regulated state.  It is also valuable to engage in the Family Activities when you are both regulated as fun bonding experiences.

 Attachment: Family Activities contribute to the formation and maintenance of healthy attachment relationships. By participating in Family Activities with your child, you are successfully communicating to your child important attachment messages such as: I see you, I hear you, I want to spend time with you, I have fun when I am with you, and you are valuable.  Communicating Understanding: Participating in Family Activities also provides opportunities for parents to utilize reflective statements, identify body sensations, and label emotions.  Examples: “I heard you say you wanted to try a new yoga pose first, and then take a walk around the room.  That sounds fun.  Let’s do it in that order together.”  “I can feel the vibrations of humming all the way down into my tummy and it is making my whole body feel calmer.  How does humming make your body feel?”  “You reached so high to catch that ball and you caught it!  You look so excited.”  At first, it can feel unnatural to use these types of reflective responses with your child, but every time you do, you communicate messages of understanding to your child.  Belonging: Sometimes children need regular reminders that they belong in the home they live in.  It can be hard for children to feel self-confident and safe in an ever-changing world full of criticism and judgement.  Therefore, it is vital that children feel a sense of stability and belonging at home.  If children can be accepted for who they are at home, it builds self-esteem.  In addition, if children can consistently depend on their homes and families as being a place of acceptance, then they are better able to cope with the array of emotions that will inevitably be evoked by the world they live in.  As a result, participation in Family Activities offer opportunities for fun and connection within the family context that contribute to feelings of belonging.  Below is the list of Heart to Heart’s recommended Family Activities for increasing regulation, attachment, communicating understanding, and belonging.  You can also find a printable version with examples.  

  • Pass a ball back and forth
  • Take a walk together (around the room)
  • Tell a joke, be silly, and laugh together
  • Hum a favorite tune
  • Complete a yoga pose
  • Draw a picture together
  • Hold hands and count to 20
  • Drum to the same beat on the floor
  • Close your eyes and focus on your inner self
  • Practice slow and deep breathing
  • Make and eat a snack together
  • Perform a muscle relaxation visualization

Some families find it fun to write the numbers 1-12 on slips of paper and randomly draw a number that corresponds to the Family Activity as a way to select which activity to do.  Other times, a child might request a specific activity.  The important thing to remember is that if a child displays resistance to participating in a certain activity, the child’s desire not to participate in that activity should be respected.  A child should never be forced to do a Family Activity.  The Family Activities are meant to be not only tolerable but also enjoyable by all participants.  ~Tasha Lehner MA

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