I was never a good “player.” As my imaginative sister begged me to make mud pies or play dress-up, I’d hide away in a corner and read. Naturally, I never had dreams of fun times playing with my own kids. And then they arrived on the scene with their irresistible cuteness and curiosity about the world. I still don’t love to participate in all their games (and that’s fine—kids need time to play on their own too), but I do realize the value of play as an attachment tool. Here are five ways play benefits kids from hard places:

Creating story

Story is how human beings make sense of life. It’s crucial. Every time you imagine or create or build with your child, you are sharing a positive experience, adding a page to your child’s story (and your own!). It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It just has to be time spent together doing something that your child enjoys.


Sports, board games, and even imaginative play with dialogue help your child build turn-taking skills. Managing impulses, planning their next move, and participating in a conversation are all executive functioning skills that will help your child succeed in school—and in life.

Shared time

Family time is so valuable. As a mom, I’ve faced a lot of peer pressure to help my kids find their “thing”—the sport or extracurricular activity where they will excel. My response is always the same.  How likely is basketball or gymnastics to be an integral part of their life as an adult? And how likely is being part of a family to be an integral part of their life? Playing with your kid helps them understand how families work. And this will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

Sensory input

Both of my children, along with a disproportionate number of kids from hard places, are sensory seekers. And so we have a sensory table outside and a sensory box inside. A quick search online will yield more ideas for sensory play than you could ever use (though water, sand, and playdough are simple, versatile, and fun). Using their senses to explore can help kids manage anxiety, increase attention span, and think creatively.

Safe physical touch

For some kids from hard places, learning to understand and tolerate safe physical touch can be a challenge. Play can help. From patty-cake with your baby to tickling and wrestling as your child grows, modeling appropriate touch can help your child heal and build trust.

It’s worth mentioning that play has a broad definition. This article gives a good overview of some play personalities (and it’s not limited to endless games of Candyland!) If you are interacting with your child and enjoying time together, it counts! So, get out there and have fun . . . and know that you are building trust and attachment as you play.