If there was ever a year that brought into focus the importance of relationships, then 2020 would be the outright winner! Amongst all our worries and stresses over the last 12 months, an exacerbating factor for all of us has been our inability to be with friends and loved ones and gain comfort and joy from being in the presence of those that matter to us. The last year has confirmed how much relationships matter; our connection to others gives us our mental health, sense of wellbeing and worth. 

So, if there was ever a year to recalibrate our priorities, surely 2021 has given us the opportunity to relate to the experiences of some of our young people who find it difficult to form relationships nor possess that safety net of family or friendships that is currently revitalising and healing us?  Young people who have experienced separation, loss and grief in addition to neglect and/or abuse often don’t experience satisfaction and safety within relationships or possess consistent figures in their life. They can struggle to relate and pre-empt rejection by rejecting first. 

As Dan Hughes states ‘The children who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways. It is our responsibility to understand this and provide an alternative experience for them so they too can thrive and flourish within relationships that allow them to succeed through their childhood and scaffold them throughout adulthood. 

At Care Visions Fostering we use Theraplay, an attachment-focused intervention, that specifically helps a child connect and trust in relationships and guides them into the value of connections. This aim is central to our approach; accepting, empathetic relationships are at the core of everyone’s wellbeing, and we acknowledge that we have to be proactive in assisting our young people to overcome some of the unconscious barriers they may have. 

Theraplay uses practitioner guidance to create playful and caring child-adult interactions that foster joyful shared experiences. Instead of toys, we use materials such as balloons, tin foil and cotton wool so the focus is on the interaction created through the activity. These activities build attunement and understanding of each other – replicating early relationship experiences that are proven to lead to secure attachment. The interactions are personal, physical and fun – a natural way for the child to experience the healing power of being together.  This guides the young person through their anxieties or reservations towards relationships and allows them to experience the pleasure of companionship and resilience. 

Theraplay interactions focus on four essential qualities found in healthy parent-child relationships and assist carers to understand and respond to their child’s attachment needs in order to provide a safe haven and a secure base. 

  • Structure:Parents are trustworthy and predictable, and provide safety organization and predictability for the child 
  • Nurture:Parents provides caring that can calm and soothe the child in a manner that makes them feel good physically and emotionally 
  • Engagement: The parent is present in a manner that the child experiences being seen, heard, felt, and accepted 
  • Challenge: While providing a secure base, parents support the child in the acquisition and mastery of new skills, enhancing the child’s sense of competence and confidence 

With the support of the Theraplay practitioner through repetition and practice, carers learn specific activities with their child that establishes felt safety, an increase in social engagement, better arousal regulation, and supports the development of positive self-esteem for both the child and carers. This creates a deeper understanding and solidifies forming relationships.