Building connections with kids through play

Our Brisbane north occupational therapists and speech language pathologists work with children and their parents to build strong connections that foster growth and development.

Our occupational therapists and speech therapists assist our families to build connection through emotional labelling and play.

How? Might you ask?


Early Infancy:

As children grow and develop they learn to regulate their emotions and bodies through interactions with their caregivers.

They learn to read their parents face and manage their own body based on this feedback. If a parent smiles and reassures their baby when distressed and meets their needs calmly, that child learns that my needs will be met and I am okay.

However, if a child’s distress is met with no action and no reassurance, that child learns that I need to make my distress bigger and more dramatic to get a more immediate response to meet my needs. Similarly if a child’s distress is met with anxiety, that child mirrors the anxiety and learns that this is the response I need to have when I am distressed. 


Through emotional labelling and regular reassurance you can build strong connection with your child and help them to build their ability to regulate and plan around their distress to calm down. 


What can you do at home?

  • Regularly label your infant’s emotion, “you’re feeling sad” or “you’re feeling grumpy because….”. Dan Siegel teaches us that labelling the emotion helps the child to recognise it and calm their body and brain. For more on this watch this video.
  • Regularly reassure your baby when they are distressed, “you’re okay, we will figure this out” or “you will be okay, we had a little bump”
  • Talk through your plan to manage distress out loud, “I can see you’re hungry, I will get your bottle and you can eat” or “We had a little bump, I will kiss it better and give you a hug to help you feel better”


Early childhood:

As children move to early childhood they start to build their ability and confidence around meeting their own needs. They start to learn to problem solve and understand what works for them to calm their little bodies. If a child has regular exposure to pretend and imaginative play, they learn to develop these skills in a stress free environment. Through play they learn how to problem solve and manage their emotions when challenged in a playful way. Being fully immersed in play with your child builds connection and allows them to see that they are important and their ideas are heard. See our blog on play for more information about play.


What can you do at home?

  • Engage with your child wholly in play, take on the role they give you, dress up and have fun with it
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your child’s idea in play, this helps them to build their ability to perspective take and negotiate what happens in a play sequence
  • Continually build on the play sequence, use phrases like “what will happen next?” or “Oh no! What will we do?!”
  • Feel free to sabotage play a little e.g. knock over a tower, or make a character get stuck, to help your child develop their problem solving and planning skills


If you have any concerns about your child’s emotional regulation or ability to problem solve or navigate friendships, please contact our wonderful client care team to discuss booking in with our occupational therapists and speech language pathologists. 


It is Infant Mental Health Week this week. Infant Mental Health Week raises awareness around infants’ ability to form connection with caregivers through adverse family situations.

If you wish to read more, please visit the website for Infant Mental Health, and if you would like further information about play therapy, please see our free information sheets to find out what play therapy is and how it can help.

Hanna Corfield

Occupational Therapist