Go Away Come Back

activitiesThis isn’t so much an activity, per se, as just something fun to do with children. Sit cross-legged on the ground and have a child sit in your lap. “Okay, up you go,” you say. They stand up and start to walk away, but you cry, “No wait, come back!” and pull them back into your lap. “No, okay, you can go,” you say, and they get up, and say “No no no, don’t leave me!” and drag them back again. Repeat as long as you like. Usually accompanied by hysterical giggles.

Why? Well, first of all, it’s a nice version of roughhousing that doesn’t feel so much like a fight. And roughhousing is great for kids—it develops not only muscles, but also self-control and social skills. Social skills? Yeah! Roughhousing is great for developing (don’t laugh) a sense of irony. Your actions are saying “we’re in a fight” but your emotions say “we are friends!” There’s so much of social interaction like this, where literal meaning and actual meaning are different, and kids learn how to do that through play.

Okay, so some pro-tips. First of all, safety. As I said, this is pretty safe as roughhousing goes—falling in a lap is pretty gentle. Most likely injury is the kid’s head hits you in the chin. So… watch out for that. You don’t have to pull the child very hard to give them the feeling of being caught—feel free to reel them in slowly. I find the most reliable way to grab kids is by the hips—that way I can really control their descent into my lap. Also, if there are other children waiting for turns, make sure they give some space in front.

The hardest part is setting limits. You’re already saying things that aren’t true (“Go away!”) so how is the child supposed to believe you when you say it’s time to be done, or they need to calm down a little? The magic tools are tone of voice and eye-contact. When it’s time to be done, I bring my voice way down from the silly “Come baaack!”, try to look the child in the eye, and softly say, “One more time, and then we’ll be done, okay?” When they nod, I switch back to the play voice and say, “Okay, go on get out of here! No come back come back come back!” And then when you’ve set that limit, you have to mean it! If you said you were done, be done (though consider transitioning to another game if the child still wants to interact).

But seriously, this is a great game, for kids as young as early toddlers and as old as… well, until they’re tall enough that you can’t play the game without getting head-butted. Enjoy.

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