The Importance of Play

8:25 pmin Articles Rosemary Strembicki

playEntering a child’s world through play, no matter what their age, is an important part of the parenting process.

We’ve all experienced it, a child’s fascination with something new:  the infant’s discovery of his feet, the toddler’s banging on a pot, the preschooler pretending to be a mom and the adolescent discovering the joys of music.  Children learn about the world and all it has to offer through play.  They experiment, revise and repeat.  They laugh and engage us with their enthusiasm speaking a language that very often eludes the casual observer.  But what an opportunity it is to get to know our children and learn what they are thinking and feeling.

So very often we view play only as a chance to enhance our child’s learning, help him develop his skills and bring him to the next level of understanding.  But most important, it is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship and form a bond of understanding that will stand strong throughout the milestones of a child’s life.  When we let our children take the lead in play and we become the audience, we see the world through their eyes and comment on our understanding of their experience. Taking a few minutes every day to enter their world without judgment or criticism sends the message that we respect their feelings and understanding of their world.

Remember when your baby kept dropping that toy no matter how many times you picked in up and placed it in her hand?  How about your young child who just couldn’t follow the rules of Candyland and insisted on skipping spaces and not giving you a turn?  It was so hard not to scold or correct and wonder if our child would ever learn to do the “right thing.”

But to meet the challenges we face as parents we need to understand our child’s developmental stage and the tasks she is working on accomplishing at that time.  Parents’ interest and level of understanding is different than a child’s.  Children need repetition and parents get bored, children need to register pleasure, remember it, initiate it and reproduce it before it can become a part of their world.  The trick is to be patient.  Take a breath, verbalize their actions (“Uh, oh, you dropped your Teddy Bear again.”  “I see you want another turn before I take mine.”) and let them continue in their play.  There will be plenty of time for correction and direction outside of playtime and as you model the behavior you want to see from them they’ll surprise you before you know it.

And the opportunity for play doesn’t stop with your elementary school age child.  As kids get older the responsibilities of school, what’s going on in their world and the world around them, and the pressures of preparing themselves for their future, can make life feel a lot more serious than it should for a young person of their age.  Sometimes as parents, we need to ensure that there is plenty of time for play in their schedule.

Invite your pre-teen and teen to join in creative projects, family hikes, cooking dinner or baking a cake.  Continue family game nights that involve dialogue and silliness.  Introduce them to concerts, theaters, art museums, special restaurants or other “grown-up” places they couldn’t go to when they were younger.  Be sure to also take the time to join your adolescent in his favorite pastime.  Learn the rules of his game and play along.  Whether it be an activity, sport or video game when you engage with your child without criticism you will learn more than you can teach.  A child needs a relaxed atmosphere to feel safe and be able to share and playtime is the best time to create that atmosphere.

Here are some guidelines to make the most of playtime:

  • Let your child take the lead when they’re young.  As they get older, initiate playtime as needed.
  • Comment on what you’re seeing rather than asking questions.
  • Keep in mind your child’s developmental level and her understanding of the play.
  • Meet your child at his level.
  • Listen and observe.
  • Be accepting of your child’s actions, if the actions are hurtful let your child know how they make you feel, stop the play and walk away if it gets out of control.
  • Start with small segments, depending on your child’s age, and be aware of overstimulation if the play goes on for too long.
  • Have fun.

The most important thing of all:  make sure you have plenty of play time with your child throughout all their ages and stages!

Questions to consider:

  • When was the last time you played with your child?
  • How often do you give100% of yourself in being with your child (letting go of all distractions – like thinking about work, your to-do list, or who just sent you that last text)?
  • What is your child’s favorite way to play?
  • What small steps could you take this month to introduce more playtime with your child?

Conversation starters:

  • Can I join you?
  • Would you like to play _____________________?
  • We are all working so hard so much of the time, let’s make some time to play this weekend!  What sounds fun?

 

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