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  • Writer's pictureAnika

How do you fill your own cup and that of your child?

Before we have children, we (I certainly did) have this romantic vision of children that play nicely together, sleep through the night, are always kind, caring and happy. That our house is tidy and organised, delicious meals are cooked from scratch (and everyone enjoys them without question!), we all have lots of time and energy for laughter, fun and family adventures...

The reality is, of course, very different. Parenting is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have never before been more exhausted, pushed to my limits, been more frustrated, and my buttons pressed more effectively than when I am with my children (they have a knack for that!).

But, I have also never learnt so much about myself and others, or laughed and played so carefree as an adult, leaving behind all the 'should's and shouldn'ts' we pick up as grown-ups along the way. So, parenting is also undoubtedly the most amazing thing I have ever had the privilege to be part of.

For me, the question is so often: How can I get that balance right so that there is less nagging and yelling and exhaustion, and more energy and laughter? Not just because it makes daily life so much more enjoyable, but also because we as a family get to make and treasure special memories. And we all walk away more resilient, more emotionally cared for and as more well-rounded individuals.

The answer is play. The first time I heard about this concept was when my sister recommended the book 'Playful Parenting' to me (by Lawrence Cohen). The idea is that by playing with your children you create a powerful emotional connection that in turn will mean not only happier, healthier children, but also more cooperative children. I get what you are thinking: often, when you are tired and all the kids have done all day is squabble, the last thing you want to do is play. In fact, we are often overjoyed when they finally play nicely with each other, or independently (and that is important for their development, too). In our house we also get very excited about bath time and bedtime, as we know when everyone is finally asleep, we will get some much needed 'me time', even if it is just for an hour.

So how do we benefit from playing with our children regularly? What I mean by 'Play' is doing whatever it is that your child enjoys doing - so for really young ones this could be playing with blocks or dolls or cars. For older children it might be playing a video game with them that they love, or having a game of football, tag, or catch. Or maybe doing a puzzle together. Whatever it is that they choose to do. And then it means getting down with them, giving them your FULL attention for 15 minutes each day - forgetting all the jobs that need doing, and just focusing on the here and now and being with them.

As humans we are all hard-wired to need a certain amount of attention from others. When children don't get enough positive attention, they will make do with any attention they can get, including negative attention from tantrums, sibling fighting, whining, helplessness, arguing back... Of course there can be other reasons for this kind of behaviour too - they may just be exhausted, or starving, or have had a tricky day at school, or pre-school... But I find that whenever I have managed to fill their emotional cups through play regularly, these behaviours are far less prevalent and my children cooperate much better. In addition, when we do get into 'meltdown territory', if I resort to playfulness rather than yelling, the situation is often instantly diffused.

A classic example was bedtime in our house two days ago. Isla (my middle one) was clearly exhausted from going back to pre-school and it had been a long day all round. She decided she did not want to get into her PJs or brush her teeth. Instead, she was happily playing in her room, successfully ignoring all requests from me to get ready for bed. I could feel my frustration rising and was very close to shouting at her, so I decided to walk away for a minute and help Rupert (my youngest) into his PJs first. When I came back only 3 minutes later, I heard her giggling and running full speed, already in her PJs, to the bathroom and very excited about brushing her teeth... wait, what!?

Mat (my husband) had found a puppet toy on her bedroom floor when he came in to see if he could help Isla get ready for bed and had spontaneously decided to make the puppet talk to her and ask her to show him how quickly she can get ready for bed.... she was ready for bed and tucked in for a story in under 5 minutes. All the yelling in the world would not have achieved that. And more importantly, Isla felt loved, understood and connected with, not shouted at or made to feel small and sad.

I get that sometimes it just doesn't work, or we just don't have the energy or the bandwidth to play. I certainly have plenty of examples where I yelled and we all got mad at each other rather than being able to stay calm and connected. We are all learning, and growing and doing the best we can as humans and parents each and every day. We also mustn't underestimate that often we can only give, if our own cup has been filled enough. I find this one of the hardest things to fit it - juggling everyone's needs alongside my own. But I know that if I don't fill my own cup, nobody benefits.

I think in part that is why I have been so keen to create something that can help with balancing the desire to be a playful, calm, present parent, with my own needs and ability to fill my cup.

That is how the PlayTableCloth was originally thought up - it is a tablecloth that instantly turns your kitchen table into a play den with different sides, so that you can sit and enjoy a few minutes peace with a cup of tea, while the children play and let their imaginations run wild. And then, when you are ready and have filled your own cup for a moment, you can get down and play with the children and fill theirs!

The PlayTableCloth is made to measure and has different sides - one side is a shop, the other is a cottage, and then the ends are a ticket office and a postbox. The windows and doors can all be opened and closed, and the signs can be written on with wipeable chalk. The top has lots of different board games and a table tennis top for the older children to play with, plus a race track for cars.

We currently have a waiting list - if you want to be kept in the loop on the launch date and have first dibs when orders start, click on the click here and simply add your email address:

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Suzanne Strydom
Suzanne Strydom
Mar 31, 2021

What a great reminder to just stop and connect through play. I love the puppet story with Isla X

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