Improving the Parent-Child Relationship

Attachment is the way in which children come to trust, understand and thrive in their world. The parent-child attachment is one of the most important attachments in a child’s life. One approach to help improve the parent-child relationship is called Theraplay.

Theraplay was developed to support healthy child/caregiver attachment/relationship and is utilized when the relationship seems stunted, distant, or non-existent. Theraplay also benefits children who struggle with following directions, impulse control, concentration, and playing with others. Theraplay is broken down into 4 core concepts. The 4 core concepts include challenge, structure, engagement and nurture.

Challenging activities lead to a sense of competence and mastery. These activities help the client master new things and move forward while still providing the support that assures them of success. Challenging activities help the child learn they can branch out while always being able to count on the adult for support. Common challenging Theraplay activities include balloon volley, bubble tennis, cotton ball race, newspaper punch, straight face, and toilet paper wrap. 

Structure activities are providing a sense of organization, safety and regulation skills. The child needs a role model who they can count on to set limits and provide modeling for appropriate behaviors. Using start and stop signals can be helpful during structure activities. Common structure Theraplay activities include mirroring, special handshakes, beanbag fall, play dough prints, cotton ball hockey, peanut butter and jelly, and stack hands.

Engagement activities help with connection, optimal arousal and shared joy. With playful interactions, the child gets experience, new body engagement, and how to interact with others in a shared environment. Parents have to help co-regulate with the child during these activities. Parents need to match their moods/excitement. Common engagement Theraplay activities include measuring, tin foil prints, sticky nose, pop cheeks, popcorn toes, blow me over, and hide/find. 

Nurture activities help with enhancing self-worth, regulating and staying calm, and empathetic responses for comfort and reassurance. Nurture activities provide children the secure base to return to when feeling stressed or needing comfort. Touch is an important concept during nurturing activities. Common nurturing Theraplay activities include caring for hurts, guessing games, preparing pizza (back massage), and feeding snacks. Common Theraplay supply list includes ribbon/yard, party balloons, tinfoil, pillow, blanket, beanbag, playdough, bubbles, cotton balls, feathers, newspaper, lotion and snack food.


Taylor, A. (2020, May). Theraplay Activites. Theraplay.

Theraplay activities by Dimensions. (2018, January). The Theraplay Institution.

What is Theraplay? (2020, September 18). Theraplay.

Written by Taylor Peterson on October 15, 2021.

Taylor takes a strengths-based, client-centered approach that’s collaborative, culturally sensitive and non-judgmental. Taylor uses cognitive behavior therapy, solution focused therapy, expressive arts therapy, play therapy, EMDR, and motivational interviewing to help clients achieve their goals.

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