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Power Reversal Games: Helping Kids to Connect and Cooperate

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We were sitting at the table, eating dinner, when my 19 month old son initiated a game that he’s done many times before.

He raised his arms up, then we all raised our arms up. Then, he clapped his hands, and we all clapped our hands. The raised his arms, we copied. It was such a simple type of game, yet one that is so powerful and the whole family plays along because we know how important this type of play can be.

He was so happy playing this game!

This sort of play is called a power reversal game.

Do you know why this sort of game is so powerful??

Because, being a little kid is frustrating! Think about how many times we make a child do things they don’t want to do in one single day. We make our kids take a bath, brush their teeth, get dressed, stop playing, get in the car, get out of the car, etc. To make all this accidental ‘bossing‘ around we do worse, a very young child can’t even verbalise their approval or disapproval of what we’re making them do. Which means, that they often have to resort to crying, screaming, and physically resisting the things they don’t want to do! And, when our children behave like that, then they are met with our own disapproval of their behaviour.

Talk about frustration for the child!

A power reversal game is any sort of play where the child is given the power. And, there can be so many types of power reversal games. Here are some examples:

  • A pillow fight and pretend you’re very weak.
  • Let your child ‘push’ you over in a way that won’t hurt you (on a bed or into a bean bag).
  • Any sort of ‘copy me’ game, where your child is the boss and you follow their orders.
  • You can’t do ‘THAT’! Is there something that’s off limits for your kids? Like touching your phone? Bouncing on the bed? So, make some sort of laughter game up, where you keep telling them no in a silly way. Or, if they’re old enough, let them be the ones to tell you ‘no‘. A favourite my kids had was swinging on the swings and they would try to kick me. I would say ‘DON’T kick me!!‘ And every time I turn around, they would try to kick me. And then, I would ‘catch‘ them and I tell them they’re in the most trouble they’ve EVER been in, in their whole lives!! No ice cream or TV ever until the end of time!! They would roar with laughter!
  • Role reversals. These are awesome for older kids. My kids like to play queen and servant. Where I am the servant and they are the queen.

When should you play these types of games?

When I tell parents to incorporate more play in their daily lives, it’s sometimes not something that comes naturally! If this sort of play seems like foreign territory, you can try doing just a few minutes a day, or maybe a half an hour per week. The book, ‘Attachment Play‘ by Aletha Solter is excellent and she discuses in detail how to do power reversal games and also how much time you should take. It doesn’t take long, believe it or not! I also wrote this article called ‘Will You Play With Me? How much Do we Really Need to Play With Our Kids.

Won’t these games make my child think they can always be rough and bossy??

Surprisingly, the answer is NO! When we make our kids feel powerful and in charge for just a few minutes, the benefits give back 10 times! You’ll notice that the connection that you create during this sort of high energy game makes your child more cooperative (in the long run, sometimes not immediately, more on this in a moment).

My child gets too worked up during this sort of play… Should I still do it?

Often, what can happen during these times when we really connect with our children, is that some very painful emotions can come bubbling up. Your child might become aggressive, start crying, or throw a tantrum. It helps to understand that these emotions are really normal and that it’s actually a GOOD thing if they come out (if you’re in the mood to handle it, it’s much better, so know that before you start playing). Sometimes you need to set a loving limit and stop the play if it gets to out of control, and then your child might cry! Which, again, try to remember is a good thing! Let them cry as long as you can, in a supported way, like saying, ‘yes, I know, you wanted to keep playing and I said, no…’ etc.

If we can let a child be the boss for just little while, it gives the child the feeling of being powerful. And that feeling of being in charge will later help them be more cooperative when they do have to follow instructions (for the millionth time that day).

The more we remind ourselves to do this sort of play with our kids, the more we start automatically incorporating into our daily lives. And then the more happy and connect our family becomes!

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