ALL the experts are telling parents to spend more quality time and play with their children, but competitive games often lead to tears and tantrums as young ones become overwhelmed when they lose.
Cork-based art therapist, lecturer and mother of three, Gabi Beuchert, has found a way around this problem having experienced it in her own family, and in many of the families she works with in therapy.
“Whenever I asked parents ‘What do you do together’, they said that they gave up playing with their children because it got too competitive, and the children were having meltdowns.”
To overcome the problem, Gabi researched alternative creative activities designed to bring fun into the family while also keeping the channels of communication open, something which is particularly important at this time when family members of all ages are under increased pressure from a mental health perspective.
“It’s a chance for parents and children to do something fun and meaningful at home together.”
These activities, now available on Instagram and Facebook at gabi.familyfun, range from fun story-telling through scribbles to drumming and talking about feelings.
“They’re not just for families but can also be used by primary and secondary school teachers, social workers and family support workers.
Cork teacher Katie Ryan tried some games out on young family members and, despite a broad age range, found everyone could participate.
“One child couldn’t follow any rules but we all had fun where everyone could be a bit silly.”
With her teacher hat on, Ms Ryan can see the value that these activities can have in a school.
They can help with language, listening skills, attuning and connecting to others, turn-taking, understanding feelings and boosting confidence in non-academic students who can have their creative abilities recognised.
“Schools don’t place enough value on non-academic activities, but these are perfect because there is no wrong and right,” she says.
With many parents busy with work, and after-school activities back up and running, family time is precious. Being aware of this, Gabi designed activities that can take as little as 10 minutes (possibly even less) and can be done just about anywhere, including on the school run.
“They apply to any age group from 2 to 12 mostly and can also be used with teenagers.
“I use them in my practice, but you can make them your own. Don’t stick to the letter,” advises Ms Beuchert.
Gabi says that particular effort needs to be made with teenagers, having noticed that technology use by young people and their parents is replacing connection and conversation at home.
“A lot of teenagers don’t talk at home or share what’s happening to them.
“Everyone is on their phones, parents included,” she explains.
As a result, the first rule for all participants in these activities is to put the phones away.
Some of the activities around feelings can bring things to the surface that parents may find difficult to sit with.
However, it’s important that young family members are allowed to express themselves, that everyone is given a voice and doesn’t get shut down for using it.
“In the post about anger, it’s important not to preach. You don’t have to fix the child, just learn to communicate. Give everyone a voice,” urges Ms Beuchert.
“It’s hard for us to hear that they’re struggling. Have compassion for yourself. Listen with empathy and have compassion, saying that you’re so sorry they feel that way,” she adds.
Ms Beuchert says that after Covid a lot of children need more support from parents, while at the same time many parents can be pre-occupied themselves with world events. Her advice to parents is ‘have compassion for yourself and your child’.
Where parents could take a step back rather than a step up, however, is in the area of keeping children busy.
“Children need lots of interaction with their friends. However, in a lot of after-school activities they don’t have the opportunity for social interaction.
“I wouldn’t recommend too many activities in the week. Also, when parents hear ‘I’m bored’ they tend to panic, but being bored is OK. There’s nothing wrong with it.
“Children don’t have to be happy and busy all of the time. It’s OK to allow times of inattention or boredom,” says Ms Beuchert.
How to Play
- Put away all phones.
- Pick a theme, depending on your mood/family needs, or close your eyes and pick one.
- The main themes are having fun, relaxing together and identifying and talking about feelings.
- Pick a place, depending when you have time (walk to school, kitchen table, car, walking the dog).
- Make it your own, use the ideas any way that suits you best (e.g. talking about feelings can happen anywhere).
Who can use it
Families (at least one adult)
Primary school staff
Secondary school staff
Where to find it
Gabi’s activities can be found at gabi.familyfun on Instagram and Facebook.