SAFE PLAY – Appendix

This excerpt was linked to our BLOG on SAFE PLAY.  One of our clinicians shared a specific story and a “how to apply this”.  We hope you find the additional appendix helpful as you navigate life with your child.


Structured: The idea of structuring play is simple. It means that activities are designed and executed in a way that follows a predictable format. Some examples are:

  • Following a predicable format. (eg. We brush our teeth before we get into our pajamas. We get on our pajamas before we read a bedtime story. We read a story before we climb into our bed. Or- we wash our hands before we sit down to dinner).
  • Following a simple set of predictable rules. (eg. Everyone takes a turn before we take a second turn; Pass the dice to the player on the left; No touching another person during the game).
  • Having a defined time frame. (eg. Use a visual timer; everyone gets 5 minutes before passing the game to someone else; announce that we have 30 minutes before we have to put the game away).
  • Keep play non-competitive. (eg. Play teams against the clock instead of against one another; Try to out perform the teams last “best score”).

Attuned: The idea of attunement means that adults are able to read and respond to the child’s emotional state during the activity. In activities, the adult can:

  • Pause the activity when the child appears to become irritated.
  • Remove the child from the environment when the child appears to escalate.
  • Provide breaks.
  • Allow the child to go to a “calm space” as a means to self-regulate.
  • Point out the emotional state that the child appears to have (“You look like you’re having fun”; “you look frustrated”; “you look like you want to do this again”).
  • When the child is having fun, the adult mirrors the joy, laughter and intensity of the child.

Fun: Children enjoy activities that are fun. During times of intense play, children lose their sense of self-consciousness and of time. Play that is deeply engaging and fun allows children to be distracted from fixating on their stressors.

  • The Broaden and Build theory of Barbara Frederickson has found that enjoyment of play serves to calm physiological arousal. This lowers a child’s sensitivity to their emotional triggers.
  • Enjoyable play allows children to expand their thought and action repertoires, rather than remaining locked into behavioural patterns related to stress and anxiety.

Encouraging: The idea of encouraging activities builds on the Broaden and Build model discussed above. Adults can build in encouragement to any activity that the child participates in such as:

  • Catching the child doing something well as they are doing it.
  • Responding to a child “You did great!” or “You are so good at that activity”
  • Asking the child “What did you think you did well?” or “What was best about that?”
  • Anchor the encouragement to an area that the child believes is a personal deficit. (eg. If the child has a poor sense of esteem, comment on the child’s character (“you were very kind; encouraging; brave”…) or quality of participation (“You are so coordinated; smart; creative”…)

About the author

Dr. Kirk Austin, Ph.D., RCC, CCI Coach

Dr. Kirk Austin is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and member of our CTR Clinical team. To learn more about him click here.

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