We have been playing a lot of Freeze tag in our family. Every day, for 10-15 minutes, we play freeze tag. This is what Little Man chooses for his special time every day, and so we do it. We sprint and hide and chase and freeze and fall down. We laugh. It is exhausting, but it is worth it. For 10-15 minutes, we feel like a family. We hold hands. We hug. No one is yelling. No one is frustrated. No one is biting or kicking or hitting.
I create these moments where I can, and then I savor them. “Little Man time” is one of the only consistent pleasantries in my life. For 10-15 minutes every day, Little Man decides what we are doing and how we are doing it. It tends to get repetitive. We’ve played a whole-freaking-lot of “cat game” and “puppy game.” (His play repertoire is small.) The boredom meant that we stopped doing it, until Little Man started a holiday-fall-apart that quickly reminded us why our days have been so structured and routine.
The idea came from parent-child interaction therapy, where half of the program focuses on increasing the positive relationship between parents and extremely difficult children. “Extremely difficult” is an understatement for Little Man, so we gave it a try. We almost always end up playing something active: puppy games, cat games, monster games, hide-and-seek, tickling, now freeze tag. He loves it; I credit it for so much of our gains with attachment. Not only his attachment to us, but ours to him as well. How can I not attach to this curly haired boy who is nearly peeing himself with laughter?! And I don’t have to “do” anything! I don’t have to remember a special therapy game. I don’t have to remind him of special cues or make social stories. We just let him be in charge, completely.
When I talk to other parents about what has worked for us, I always recommend this strategy. It can be tricky in the beginning. You’re not supposed to give directions, ask questions, or quiz kids on things. You don’t get to be in charge of where the play goes. Sometimes, I’ve wanted to say — no more puppy game! Sometimes, the repetition is exhausting. Sometimes, though, it can be magical. You simply follow the child’s lead, and be excited about their interests. Comment on what they are doing. Spend 10-15 solid minutes showing (not telling) that you care deeply about everything this child does. Ten minutes. That’s all. And it does make a difference.