The Weavings of Attachment and Play

The Weavings of Attachment and Play

Play is an innate behaviour in children. The urge to play is woven into their biology and into the blueprint of who they are. We know this because of how pervasive it is. We only have to look at the play behaviours of other animal species to understand that it must form an important function for our development. Play behaviours are observed in almost all animal species, many of which would simply not engage in play if it was to “waste time” as that would risk their survival.

While the evidence is clear that play is a biological drive for our children, it may not always feel as though this is true.

Perhaps you are like many parents who have at times become frustrated by their children seemingly inability to leave their side and play. Or perhaps your child asks to play with you for what feels like all day.

While there are many factors that impact a child’s play urge that exist both internally and externally to their being, today I wanted to draw some connections between the interweaving’s of attachment theory and play.

I often like to view play through the lens of the theory of Circle of Security. In this model, the evidence base of attachment theory has been propositioned to help us understand a child’s attachment needs and how parents can support these needs for children to develop the feelings of safety they need to engage with and explore the world.

Within this model, the parent is seen as the secure base. When the child rests in this secure base, their attachment needs are fulfilled giving them the confidence to leave the secure base. The child can then venture into the world, explore, play and assess risk among other things. However the child will need to return to the safety of this secure base for reassurance after some time, especially if there has been any source of physical or emotional pain during exploration time.

Neurobiology can help us to further understand what is happening for our children here. Emotions, especially feelings such as safety, are wired into lower parts of our children’s brains. These are basic needs that must be met, for the development of higher order brain functions to unfold in the best way possible. However, even after optimal development, the need for deactivation in these lower, emotional centres of the brain, remains crucial to a child having the ability to access and use the high levels of their brain.

It may help to think of it like an elevator. At the ground level, our brains need to be free from the effects of stress and trauma for the button inside the elevator to work so that we can get to the higher levels. It is in those top floors that we can access things like reasoning, problem solving and creativity.

Play thrives on a child’s ability to access their creative, problem-solving resources.

Play also therefore thrives when a child is able to heal emotionally and exist within the context of a safe, secure attachment relationship.

To encourage play we must first encourage secure attachment and establish feelings of safety within our relationship with our children

The steps to doing so are multifaceted and require us as parents to really step into self-awareness and prioritise our own healing too – especially if we have an insecure attachment style ourselves or may have difficulty accepting our children’s emotions.

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