Playtime is a valuable part of each child’s day, whether that be at school, in the community, at home, or at a friend’s house. Play allows a child to explore their environment, learn new gross and fine motor skills, and improve communication of their own thoughts, feelings, worries, and interests. Engaging in play with your child also helps strengthen the relationship between caregiver and child, while also teaching them valuable skills!
So have you ever wondered how exactly you are supposed to play with your child? Let me give you a few pointers:
When playtime occurs, all of the focus should be on the interaction between you and your child. Setting aside time with no phone, television or other screens will show your child that they have all of your attention. Making them the center of attention (even if for a small amount of time in between Zoom calls) shows your child that their interests, emotions, and presence are important to you. This may increase your child’s self-esteem and improve communication between you and your child. This will likely become a time that they look forward to each day!
Kids love to share stories, especially those about their interests or their day. While listening to your child explain the whole plotline to Moana (even when you have seen it every day for the past year) may seem like a daunting task, it will show them that you are listening and want to hear what they are saying. Repeating back to your child the information that they shared with you, will show them “Woah, my caregivers were listening to me!” Kids want to be heard and validated by their caregivers. Modeling listening skills will in turn teach your child good listening skills!
Playing with your child allows for an opportunity to acknowledge preferred behaviors and give immediate positive praise! Kids are more likely to repeat behaviors that are given attention. As parents and caregivers, many days we get caught up in work, cooking, cleaning, etc and we tend to brush off the good behaviors (because the kids are quiet, which allows for us to complete these tasks). We may only stop our routines to point out and reprimand for negative behavior. This may lead a child to believe that the only way to get our attention is to engage in “bad behavior.” Follow your child’s lead during play and praise the positive! This might sound like, “I notice how you are taking turns with me!”
Young children lack the ability to control impulses and tend to act on these impulses without knowing what or why they are doing something. Describing the actions that you see your child doing during playtime will help increase their awareness of their actions, give language to their experience, and help them become more mindful of their environment. Mindfulness is an important skill practiced in therapy for both children and adults because it helps us manage strong feelings and notice our own responses in different situations. Providing language to a child’s play may help the child stay focused on an activity, notice their own actions, and foster the relationship between child and caregiver!
Playtime allows for smiles, praise, laughter, hugs, verbal and nonverbal communication, and positive emotions to be present! The bond between child and caregiver is strengthened through play. It creates a safe environment full of praise, love, and encouragement. While play helps children, it also helps parents too! It allows us to see the joy that play brings to our children and helps us notice the positive interactions in each day with our children!
Many parents feel stuck while playing with their children. Don’t worry! We’re here to help. Give us a call 616-929-0248
Chanler Burns is a Limited Licensed Master Social Worker (LLMSW) at Lifeologie Grand Rapids. She specializes in working with young children, tweens, and teens. She uses play therapy and other creative means to help children process through trauma and communicate their emotions and worries. Chanler knows that parenting and growing up can be tough, so she is here to help navigate and support both parents and children through anything that life throws your way.