Regression Play for Healing and Connection


In her book Attachment Play, Aletha Solter Ph.D. describes nine different forms of play that parents can use to build and maintain strong attachment with their children, to elicit cooperation, to promote healing of stress and trauma and to provide a sense of emotional safety. The laughter that these forms of play create, reduces tension, anxiety and anger for our children and can be done at any time and in any place. Play is one of the most powerful healing mechanisms for children and is an important aspect of Aware Parenting. 

Regression games are playful activities that would normally be offered to younger children, but that we do with an older child to promote connection and healing. Sometimes these games involve laughter and sometimes not and our children will often initiate these games spontaneously. For example, our children might pretend to be a younger child, talking in a young voice, using baby talk or pretending to crawl and is often a way that a child will revisit their younger years in order to feel the love and attention they crave. Children can also use this play to return to a traumatic experience of their younger years or a time of unmet needs in order to heal. When we understand that this type of play is really therapeutic and can recognise that our children are spontaneously trying to heal by playing in these ways,  we can join them in these games to facilitate their healing. 

This type of play is particularly helpful when there is a new younger sibling in the family and can also be used if there has been a disconnection in the relationship between a parent and child when the child was younger, either due to illness, significant parental stress or post-natal depression. It is also really effective for children who have been adopted as a way of offering them the nurturing love and attention that they may have missed in their earlier life. 

Parents sometimes worry that this type of play will encourage our children to be dependent or become more needing of our help and regress to behaving like a younger child. But the opposite is true. When we offer this type of play to our children, it meets their needs for connection and love and feeling nurtured and cared for and therefore promotes more independence, confidence and security. It also allows them to laugh, to release and heal from stress and trauma they have experienced, whether that be major traumatic events or accumulated mini-traumas. 

Really therapeutic regression games include:

  • Treating your child like a baby, wrapping them up in a blanket, pretending to give them a nappy, rocking them in our arms
  • Bouncing our children on our laps and singing lullabies or rhyme songs to them
  • He’s mine, He’s mine game when both parents or a parent and a trusted adult friend, pretend to “fight” over the child, each one saying how much they love them and want to cuddle and kiss them. 
  • Anytime our children start talking like a much younger child, we join them in the pretense and give them cuddles, offering that we will breast feed them or give them a bottle etc. 

When parents can follow the child’s lead and respond to them in these ways, children are able to revisit earlier times of trauma or connect with current stresses and release the feelings through laughter and a sense of loving closeness and safety. These games do not have to take a long time and can be brought in regularly by us or used in response to their invitations. 

As always with Aware Parenting, when we are finding it hard to play and just cannot muster the energy, it can be a sign that we need additional support or to offer ourselves some extra self-care. But when we are resourced and can recognise that our children are not being deliberately annoying or childishly misbehaving, but instead they are inviting us to join and support them while they release and heal, it can be such a powerful way to facilitate their healing and strengthen our connection.  

Your parenting coach and mentor

About Joss Goulden

I am a trauma-informed Parenting Coach and a Level 2 Aware Parenting instructor, certified with the Aware Parenting Institute. I have been practising Aware Parenting for 17 years and am the mother of 2 children, aged 19 and 17.

I am also passionate about Homeschooling and Natural Learning. I have homeschooled my 2 children and I have been supporting families with Homeschooling and Natural Learning for many years.

Aware Parenting with Joss

I am so passionate about sharing this beautiful approach with parents. I believe that Aware Parenting is THE solution for so many of the challenges facing the world. - Joss Goulden, Aware Parenting Instructor
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