Why do kids love building forts/cubby houses, especially in these COVID times?
Kids playing in cubby houses and forts is a way of them helping to make sense of so many changes. The construction side of building is helping them to use their muscles and to gain an internal sense of building their own control safe space using their muscle, kinesthesia and proprioceptive systems. When children are in a fort or a cubbyhouse, they have built clear boundaries around themselves, which helps them feel protected.
It gives them privacy, gives them a safe space to process what’s happening around them.
Do you think more kids are escaping to their forts in times of lockdown and uncertainty?
Many children are creating cubby houses and forts in this time of lockdown and uncertainty. It is fun, it allows them to pass the time with play and playing out scenarios. This is important processing time, allowing them to process what’s happening in this lockdown period. Play may include overt role play of lockdown scenarios, or it may just be imaginative play that just looks like fun. But it is allowing them to be independent in creating their own safe space, both physically and mentally.
In a fort, you can look out, but others can’t see in. You can decorate it with your special pillow and blanket which has your own personal smell on it. They can choose their favourite books, lego blocks or invite their pet in for fun and comfort.
Also from a sensory processing perspective, which is intricately linked to a trauma response (of which we are all in to some extent in this lockdown time), being in a confined small space, often decorated with lovely sensory, snugly accessories such as pillows, bean bags etc, children can find a safe and cozy space in which to de-stress and relax in.
Deep touch pressure is one of the most calming senses of the body and is used in many types of therapy to calm the nervous system and this is achieved when you are squished into a cozy cubby house.
How can parents help their kids create safe, secure and fun hideaway spaces?
Being an understanding and nurturing parent and spending time with your children is essential in this lock down and transition time back into post lockdown life. Letting your children have the freedom to create cubbies or forts and not being a ‘neat freak commander’ is super important in keeping those nurturing lines of communication open. Children are looking to us to be one of their safe and psychological anchors as things change from week to week.
Parents can help children by
- Making the suggestion if the children haven’t started already of making a cubby or a fort
- Helping the child choose a safe space which can be created in and where the structure can be left up for longer periods
- Help provide access and ideas for what can be used in construction eg blankets, pillows, books and other special items that could be included.
- Allow them to leave the structure up for a longer period, and not have to take it down every day.
- Encouraging children to go and use their safe space if they notice they are needing a calming, safe place eg if they are getting upset, angry or other emotions.
Would it be detrimental to their child for parents to dismantle their kid's forts?
As a fort is a child’s safe space, it’s important that there be communication between the parent and the child if the parent needs it to be dismantled. If the space is needing to be used, chat with your child before hand, explain the reason why it needs to be dismantled and perhaps if a safe space is still needed, negotiate with the child for how they can create another safe space in another part of the house or outside.
What other ways can parents help their kids feel safe and secure during these times?
Parents can help their children feel safe and secure in these times by focussing on my four anchors of reducing anxiety. These include:
- Focus on giving as much nurture to your child and investing in your relationship. We want kids to say, “I feel safe, and I know you are here for me”.
- Increase the structure and support to your child. Use calendars, lists, pictures of daily routines and what is happening. Map out on a white board the next week and add clipart images for what’s coming up. We want our kids to say, “I know what is happening and I know what is next.” This helps them feel safe.
- Help grade tasks to be a ‘just right challenge’. In times of anxiety and change, a task that was easy before Covid-19 may now feel overwhelming to a child. If they can’t cope, break down the task into smaller steps. We want kids to say, “The next step of my task is doable, even with how I feel right now”.
- Create a safe environment for your child. This is what forts and cubbies are all above. We want our kids to say, “My surrounding are supporting my mind and body needs.” Now, our kids aren’t going to say that, but this is what will happen when they have a safe space.
Do you think adults need forts too – or is that what our homes, bathtubs, bedrooms are?
Yes, adults need a safe physical and mental space to process what is happening. The above 4 points relate to adults as well. We need to have others nurture us, we need to have extra structure and support to do what we need to do. We need the just right challenge and probably can’t do as much as we used to.
And yes, we need to have safe spaces too. This might be outside such as at a park, beach or other space we feel is safe, or it could be a favourite arm chair, our bath or our bedroom, which is set up just how we like it.