When children and parents spend time apart during the day, adjustments are necessary when reconnection takes place. This reentry into each others’ lives can create some missteps because everyone is full of feelings remaining from their time apart. Everyone also has slightly different expectations about what will happen when they gather together again. Parents may be looking for some peace and quiet at the end of their day, while children have been waiting hours for some rough-and-tumble play.

Children do not always handle reunions in a way that makes reconnecting easier. Some children are visibly joyful when greeting a parent after separation, but that is not always true. Sometimes children will burst into tears as a way to cope with pent-up tension, while others will pick a fight. Some kids will ignore their parent’s greeting, become provocative, or act out their ambivalence by climbing up on their parent as they give him or her little kicks.

The confusion of a child’s feelings about being separated from a parent combined with a parent’s own mixed needs and feelings about reentering the dynamics of family time can result in everyone’s nerves being on edge.

Though play may not be the first thing on a parent’s mind, it can be one of the best ways to shift gears as a family reconnects. Play allows—and importantly, encourages—emotional expression. For kids to develop emotionally, they need to learn the skills necessary to completely convey what they are feeling.

If you aren’t sure where to start, keep your play simple. You can just hang out, toss a ball in the yard, thumb wrestle, put words to a play-by-play commentary, turn on some music and dance, build a fort with the cushions off the couch, or get out a board game.

Have fun with your children and reach for a connection through play. Relationship, merriment, and creativity are the rewards for all.