Play is an essential part of child development. It offers children a space to use their creativity while developing important skills that support their cognitive, physical and emotional abilities. Through play, children can create and explore a world that they can master, playing out wishes, conquering fears and practicing roles that they would otherwise not be able to. As children learn to master their world, play supports their development of new competencies and increases their confidence and resiliency.
Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children, but sometimes it can be tricky to know how or when to jump into this play. The most important tool for connecting with children through play is being able to follow their lead. While this can sound easy it takes a lot of practice and patience to truly immerse yourself in child-centered play. Some of the tips that can help you to follow your child’s lead are:
- Get face to face with your child – getting down to your child’s level allows you to connect more easily and share in the moment, so whenever you can get into a position that makes it easy for your child to look right into your eyes.
- Observe your child – children can have very different styles and methods of playing, before jumping in it is essential that you take the time to watch what your child is doing. By pausing and tuning into your child’s play you can pick up on important messages about what your child is interested in and how they engage with this.
- Really listen and give the child your full attention – while observing your child’s play it is important that you show your interest through active listening, this can be shown by leaning forward and looking at your child expectantly. Observing in this way communicates to your child that they have your full attention and you are ready to fully immerse yourself in their world.
- Use less questions – while questions are often our way of showing interest and getting more information, when this is done during a child’s play it can be disruptive and at times direct the play. Try limiting your questions and instead comment on what you see the child doing with interest and enthusiasm (i.e.,that looks like a big mountain for them to climb, your tower is getting so tall, I wonder where the dragon has gone).
Above all else, remember to have fun. Your children know you better than anyone and when they see you letting go and getting into their play it makes them feel like superstars!
References:Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.