Children learn about the world and themselves through play. Playtime can also be a wonderful opportunity for you to bond with your child — to let her know you “get” who she is and what she might be thinking and feeling as demonstrated through her play themes. For child-centered playtime to be most effective, set time aside for you to fully enjoy your child and be able to focus on what is happening in the play. This kind of “special time” will help her to develop a secure attachment, enhance your child’s development, and will be something your child will look forward to — making it a great motivational tool for their cooperation! For example, if you need to make a phone call, you can help your child wait for your attention by letting her know that after the phone call she will get “special time”.
Here is how it works:
- Set aside 15 – 20 minutes a day where there will be no distractions or interruptions.
- Put out toys and materials used in multiple ways and that requires imagination. Good options are building blocks, Play-Doh, drawing tools, yarn, stuffed animals, dolls, Legos, dress-up outfits, or containers from the kitchen.
- Let the child know that this is special time just for her, and that it is for a specific length of time. Set the timer and let your child know that when the timer goes off, special time is over for the day.
- Get down on the floor with your child and let yourself relax into the experience. Some adults find that getting into a playful mindset can be challenging at first; try reducing the time to 10 minutes to start.
- Let your child take the lead and you follow. This is very important. Play how he or she wants you to. This is not teaching time, so try to avoid setting limits or praising. Just enjoy being together and notice what it is your child is trying to express through her play themes.
- Avoid cleaning up until playtime is over.
- Practice narrating what you see your child doing. This will help you stay in the present.
- Try to do this every day. If you have more than one child, if possible, set aside time for each child. It will pay off in the long run.
(Adapted from Georgia DeGangi, 2000)
Special Time gets easier with practice. It can be a surprisingly effective way to elicit cooperation from a negativistic child or to calm down an easily excitable child.
For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org.
Deborah Groening is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Psy.D. Candidate and Certified Infant-Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Executive Director of Well Baby Center.