One of the fundamental elements of Playfight are the four rituals: Invitation, Encounter, Appreciation and Feedback. With children, of course, everything is more fluid, yet the rituality supports them to feel safe and each one part has unique benefits for the children's development. (if you want to go deeper into each Ritual, you can read about them on www.playfight.org).
You start by kneeling down and facing one another, looking at each other for a few seconds. When both people feel the connection, you raise the fists at the level of the chest and touch each other without losing eye contact, saying simultaneously "Playfight".
I explained to Noa that this is a useful ritual for remembering that safety comes first and that we cannot: hurt the other - bite - kick, punch - or tickle - which can often makes you lose control, nor use strength to strangle/ hold the neck - pull hair or clothes or do any other violent action.
Depending on the age of your children the encounter can have different games.
The goal that Noa (6yo) and I decided is "to throw the other out of bed". While if your children are older you could have a goal to pin the other down on the back for 3 seconds; counted out loud. However, I remind you that the ultimate goal of the practice is connection and you - as the adult - must always keep it in mind.
Playfight with your children will look more or less like a fight between kittens. It will be fun, unpredictable, and you’ll feel - in the end - tired (if not exhausted) and happy.
I don't want to give you too many indications because it would be difficult to describe in detail how an encounter takes place. Instead, try to find your own way of playfighting.
To encourage the children to communicate what they feel and felt during the encounter, when the playing session is over, sit down facing each other. Then hold each others hands and share what you liked about the other during the encounter (e.g, I appreciated your strength, agility, the embrace that you gave me halfway through the encounter, etc. ..).
Here are a few pieces of advice that could be useful. However - in principle - if you keep in mind that safety and connection come first, you can just use your creativity and let your children use theirs. This way you will find a thousand other variations of the game that I have not yet discovered.
These are two of our favorite variations:
- I hold Noa tight and he has to free himself (I let him free a little, then I let him run away, saying "Oh no, he's doing it, it's not possible, he did it again"), then we swap and, he sits on top of me and I have to try to escape (of course after many thousand unsuccessful attempts).
- I put a puppet behind my back and he tries to catch it. He loves this game and his friends too. It can become a 3-vs-1 fight where more than physical strength, agility is most important. It is unimaginably fun.
YOU CAN SAY STOP AT ANY TIME
At any time, for any reason, the players can stop the playfight by saying STOP. Explain to your child that he/she can do it, too. It is valuable that children learn to say "STOP" when they feel it is too much. Sometimes they will say it even if they have not really hurt themselves. Maybe they just need a cuddle, or your attention and someone listening. Always respect theis stop and give them the time they need to restart.
For example, Noa sometimes crashes into the furniture and - even if it is not hurt - he needs to stop and tell me in detail where he crashed and how it happened before continuing the game.
So if an accident happens never minimize it, rather ask them if they are ok and need a pause. Taking breaks is essential. Stop can also be said whenever a safety rule is not respected (e.g.: if the hair is pulled, an accidental kick or hard tickling).
It is natural, especially the first few times when you experiment, to enter immediately into a fast dynamic, which can include jumps and attacks of all kinds. Often when children start having fun they don’t see where the safe limit is. So if you go slow the risk of getting hurt is much lower. You can be slow and have a lot of fun anyway.
Remember that children are not so used to being slow and mindful, and therefore we have to often pause the game and remind them of the rules with gentleness and firmness.
LOOK OFTEN IN EACH OTHERS EYES
How often do you meet the gaze of your child when you fight?
It took me some time to realize that it didn't happen that often. So I started doing it voluntarily a lot. The connection also passes through the gaze and - especially with children - if they cannot look us in the eye it is because there is a break in the connection or something else is not working. They may need a cuddle or a break.
ALWAYS GIVE AN ADEQUATE LEVEL OF STRENGTH
This is to prevent children from feeling frustrated or helpless. Help them win often but not too easily. Fighting - without getting hurt - is in fact an amazing way to play, have fun, release tensions, connect, learn respect and self-regulation, for children and for us. For children it is essential that it is an experience that makes them feel capable. So even if in some moments you may want to go full on in the fight, self-regulate and give them the appropriate level of resistance.
You may notice that, day after day, their strength increases. This happens because the fear decreases - of getting hurt or hurting you and of not pleasing you - and increases the connection that is created between you. At this point you can increase your level of strength too!
THE MAGIC POWERS
Noa realizes that I am stronger than him and that he could not win on equal terms so he invented magical words that can give him superpowers or limit mine. These are useful to balance the strength. The words he uses are:
- “Freezing breath”: which can freeze and then thaw me whenever he wishes
- “Sign”: his image appears in front of my eyes, so that he tricks me to imagine it is him, then I begin to fight comically with the air in front of me, at the same time he then can make a counterattack from behind. (This is a word that my son invented, so you could also use other words like "Illusion" and suggest that. I'm sure your kids will appreciate very much the fact that they can use special powers).
IT MAY HAPPEN THAT YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE
Because we are not used to playfighting, and because often we connect the idea of fighting with violence. But it is not so; try it out! You will love it!
Yet it might happen that you feel strange while playfighting (maybe it evokes unpleasant memories). In this case ask for a break, and give yourself the time to feel into it.
Very often the fight turns into a hug or kisses. Let these moments creep into the moment of fight.
HAVE FUN AND BE RIDICULOUS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
When we practice with children, the experience must be fun! While playfighting between adults you shouldn't talk, in order to keep the experience body centered; but with children it’s different. With Noa talking is a natural part of the game and you can also talk in funny ways, playing monster or a character of your choice. ("Ah pirate, you did it once again! But now I will defeat you!" and then I perform a sensational fall from the bed, which normally is followed by endless laughter). So the advice is also not to be afraid of making yourself ridiculous, children like to go crazy.
HOW LONG SHOULD A PLAYFIGHT LAST LAST?
We go from 5 minutes to 40 minutes. It depends on my amount of energy. It never happened that Noa said "Enough, I’m tired" He can continue endlessly.
If the idea of playfighting with your children is completely new to you but it intrigues you - try it at home! You won’t regret it!
Happy Playfight with your little cubs!