Creating a special play time to improve your relationship with your child and their behaviors.
Early on in my career as a therapist I underestimated the importance and value of play. It didn't take long for me to learn how imperative play s for children. After a lot of great experience and play therapy training, I have found that play is the best tool for children (and even some adults). I have seen behavioral challenges disappear after a few sessions of play therapy. I have seen kids explore issues that they could never face by talking about them. All of this in the context of something that children do so naturally. Play is a child's work. Play is how children learn, process, and practice skills. It is a safe way for them to express feelings, needs, and thoughts. It allows them to work through various scenarios. It provides them a way to identify new skills or practice old ones. If you ever sit back and watch your child play, you may see this first hand. While most parents play with their children, the type of play that I suggest to many parents that I work with, is a bit different. It is more child centered and we are mere observers/participants. In this type of play the child is in charge allowing them to determine what they need to work on and how they are going to do this. It is a time when parents step out of their parenting role (no teaching or guiding here) and simply enter their child's world.
How can this help my child?
Gary Landreth explains : "In the special play times, your will build a different kind of relationship with your child and will discover that she is capable, important, understood, and accepted as they is. When children experience a play relationship n which they feel accepted, understood, and cared for, they play our man of their problems and ,in the process, release tensions, feelings, and burdens. Your child will then feel better about herself and will be able to discover her own strengths and assume greater self responsibility as she takes charge of play situations." How do we begin? 1. Set up a day of the week and time for a 30 min special play session. try to keep it consistent. If it needs to change discuss this with your child and reschedule with them. Never use this play time as a reward or consequence , it should be unconditional. 2. Turn off phones and make sure you are uninterrupted. This is 30 minutes just for your child
3. Give your full attention. Sit on your child level and have your eyes, ears and, body fully on the child to show that you are paying full attention. Playing Child Leads: this is the most important aspect of this play time. Your child is in the lead. They determine the play and what your role is in it. Be prepared. your child may ask you to join (only join when invited) or they may have you sit in a corner the whole time. I have seen it all. The child leading also means that we follow them without imposing our own views. This is a special time when your child is 100% in the lead. This allows them the freedom to utilize the play any way that they need to without someone else imposing on it. It allows them to feel in control and to explore the things that need to explore. Be ready for what this may look like. I have had children do all kinds of things during this time from role reversal play to making the parent sit in a corner. What does this mean?
Do not ask questions. Do not interrupt your child's play with questions or identify a toy for them (allow your child to do this). It will break their focus. Instead use what Landreth calls "Reflective Responding" . Reflect what you see: behaviors, thoughts, feelings, needs, wishes (without asking questions). For example, Child is excited by a drawing they make during this time. You respond "you are excited about your drawing" . Do not correct. If your child comes up with something that is incorrect, let it go this is not the time to teach , simply be present. Do not use this time for teaching. When doing this try not to able things as they may be using that item for something else (we don't want to get in the way of their creativity or their play). It ends up going like this: "You are putting that there" ,"You are moving onto a new thing" ," You are coloring with that". Limits are only set if needed (if safety is an issue or toys are about to be broken)
During this time there are no evaluations or judgments: Do not offer evaluation or judgement on what your child is doing .This is a tough one. That means no "good jobs". If you have to say something reiterate what you see. For example, ."you are very proud of your drawing" or "tell me more about it".
Ending the playtime:
Your child is going to love this time. They may have a hard time ending. Provide a 5 minute warning and then state that "our play time is over for today". If child has a hard time ending you can begin cleaning up and validate their feelings about not wanting this time to end. For example "I know you would like to stay and play, but our time is over for today. We will do this again next week". You can make your way to the door at this point. You may have to repeat your statement a few times calmly and patiently. Ending this play time will be difficult for your child at first. Stay calm and firm (don't start playing again). You can welcome them to join you in the next activity such as going outside, getting a snack, etc. Your child will get better at ending the special play time as time goes on. The younger they are the longer this may take so they key is to remain cam and patient.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.