You can be a role model for emotional expression during the course of play as you verbalize your own feelings. You will probably get a laugh from the children you work with when you try this, but this good humored tactic can prove to be a valuable bonding and teaching tool.
A successful use of such emotional display was documented by Dr. Berlin in the book, “Game Play: Therapeutic Use of Childhood Games”. During play sessions with emotionally troubled children, when losing, Berlin would playfully throw up his hands in mock despair and dramatically exclaim that the child was trouncing him. If he was winning, he would jubilantly crow over his impending victory with unbridled enthusiasm. This was all done in a humorous fashion to promote bonding and with the intent of helping the child become familiar with self-expression.
The children not only enjoyed his “ham acting”, but interestingly, they began to copy him. They mimicked his reactions, and expressed empathy and concern when he lost, as he had shown them. The closeness and warmth that developed over the course of their game sessions caused the children to be willing to share their feelings. A bond was forged and he was then able to help them with their deeper problems.
Communication is a skill we can learn at any age, however we can give children a head start by providing positive role models in effective emotional expression. There are countless ways to communicate your feelings, but here are a few examples of useful phrases that could be used during game sessions, as you interact with the children:
To express closeness:
• I like playing with you!
• I’ve really enjoyed this time together.
• You’re a lot of fun to be with!
• Playing with you is so much more fun than playing alone.
• I really like having fun with you like this.
To express joy, excitement and glee:
• Wow! This is great!
• This is so exciting!
• We’re going to do it this time!
• I love this game, it’s so much fun!
• Yahoo! We won!
To express playful mock “outrage” at loss:
• I don’t believe it! You won again!
• No way! How did you do that!
• You trounced me!
• Oh man! You’ve got me!
To express empathy and sympathy for loss:
• I know it’s rough to lose.
• I know how you feel.
• That must be frustrating, you were really close to winning.
• Don’t feel bad, you really did your best.
• I miss shots like that too sometimes.
• You’ll do better next time.
• I know it’s not fun to lose, but it sure is fun to play with you.
To express acceptance of loss:
• That was fun, even if you just trashed me!
• I can’t believe I lost again! But it was still a really fun game.
• Well, somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose.
• Everyone had a good chance to win, and that’s what makes it fun to play.
• Boy, you beat the pants off of me! That was quite a game!
• That was so close! It was a great game though.
• Boy, you really got me this time. You played really well. It was fun!
• The important thing is that everyone had a chance to play and enjoy the game
To express admiration for others:
• Wow, you’re a natural at this!
• You’re so good at this!
• Your game is improving so much.
• Boy, you really put your heart into a game.
• I can see you really have been practicing.
• You are so patient when people miss, that’s really great.
• I really like how you wait your turn.
• You really have the team spirit, always encouraging others.
To express encouragement:
• Don’t give up, you can do it!
• Keep trying, you’ll get it!
• That was a great try!
• You really give it your all when you play!
• Don’t worry, you’ll catch on.
• It takes time to learn to how to play well. The important thing is to just have fun together.