By: Loren Lomme, MA, LPC, NCC
I am a frequent reader of parenting articles and blogs. I am always on the lookout for new information and ideas, and I enjoy the different perspectives of parents and child development experts related to various topics and experiences. As can be expected, I don’t always agree with or like everything I read, and I can usually just take those reads with a grain of salt and move on. However, a recent blog post really got to me and hurt my play therapist heart, and here’s why.
The post was called something like “Why I Don’t Play with My Kid.” The gist was that this particular parent liked to take care of parenting tasks in the realm of meeting physical and survival needs but always delegated out playing to other people because she “hated” playing with her kid. While I can agree that there are many other things that might be more fun, exciting, and non-monotonous than joining in on another lightsaber battle, lego creation, Candy Land game, or caring for a sick babydoll, the fact is that there are few things that are more important in our role as parents and caregivers.
The research on social learning and child development tells us in no uncertain terms that children learn most effectively from interacting with their attachment figures (parents and other important caregivers). Through their interactions and relationships with children, caregivers model appropriate social skills and ways of being in a relationship. In addition, the research on the importance of play tells us that not only is play the most natural form of communication for children, but it is also how children brain’s learn and develop most effectively.
So why don’t we just send our kiddos out to play with their friends and be done with it? The answer is actually quite logical when we break it down. While playing with other kids is fun, socializing with other kids does not equal building social skills. When kids only play with other kids (especially with no adult involved in the play), we are basically asking one socially immature being to teach another socially immature being appropriate interaction and problem solving skills….clearly this is not feasible and makes no sense. For social skills to be learned and appropriately fostered, an adult needs to be heavily involved to teach and guide the children in handling conflicts and other issues when interactions go awry. An even better scenario is that children also have a significant amount of time each week to play with the important adults in their lives; and this is why the aforementioned blog post hurt my heart.
While an integral piece of a caregiver’s job is to meet physical and survival needs, an equally (and some would say) more important role is to meet emotional, attachment, and cognitive developmental needs. The best and most effective way to do this is through engaging in children’s play and incorporating playful interactions into your parenting as often as possible. There are so many opportunities for this every day, it just takes some effort and creativity on the part of the caregiver to make it happen. And in addition to building social skills and fostering development in many areas, you are strengthening your relationship with your child. We know that children are biologically and instinctively wired to connect with and please their caregivers, and the stronger our relationship, the better behavior we will get from our kids…it’s a win-win for everyone! I often encourage caregivers to build into their day a 10 or 15 minute “special playtime” with their kids. During “special playtime” the child is in charge of the play, and the parent is an eager participant who follows the child’s lead. During this time, the goal is to just connect with your child, be with them, and value them. The effects of this short, daily playtime are easily seen and pretty amazing. For guidance with how to get going with “special playtime” or for other ideas on incorporating play and playfulness into your days and relationships, you contact us to make a counseling appointment or read more about child counseling and family and parenting counseling on our dedicated pages. If you liked this post, you can read What to Do with Kids in Austin and Four Simple Ways to Connect with Your Kids This Summer.