By setting aside 30 minutes each week or 10 minutes each day devoted to special play time, the parent-child relationship can be greatly enhanced. During this time, the child is the center of the universe and the parent is merely an observer that must be invited in. The child leads and the parent follows. In this special playtime, there are no reprimands, questions, teaching, judgements, put-downs, requirements or reprimands. The parent follows the child’s lead by showing keen interest and carefully observing the child’s play, without making suggestions or asking questions, and by actively joining in the play when invited by the child. For 30/10 minutes, you (parent) are “dumb” and don’t have the answers; it is up to your child to make decisions and find solutions. If the child determines that the trains are best used upside-down, then that is how the trains will be used.
During the play parents can verbally describe what the child is doing, verbally reflect what the child is saying and most importantly, reflect the feelings that the child is experiencing through play.
While special play time is not an opportunity to teach, there may be times that limits need to be set. Limits help a child feel safe and supported when used properly. Limits should be stated in a way that help foster self-control while also validating the child’s desires. Limits can be set around not breaking/damaging the toys, time and not physically hurting anyone in play. Consistency is key.
Parents should prepare the play area ahead of time with boundaries and special toys that do not have specific rules such as board games or lego kits. Convey to the child that this is special playtime and they can play with the toys in lots of the ways they’d like. (This allows for freedom while also providing opportunity for limit setting as needed.) Anytime the child asks for permission or information, turn it back to the child by stating “You can decide” or “That can be whatever you want it to be”.
After a few special play sessions, you will notice an enhancement in your relationship with your child and likely notice improvements in behaviors and self-control.
Tara Motzenbecker, Licensed School Psychologist, is available to speak more in-depth on this topic to groups at day cares, medical offices, schools and parent-groups. Please call Parent and Child Psychological Services (941) 357-4090 to discuss a free seminar on this topic.