It has always been mistakenly assumed that play is a child’s instinct and he can do it without adult assistance. Although very young children engage themselves in spontaneous child play, it is also noted that without adult intervention to stimulate early childhood development, this instinct gradually vanishes with time.
Child play helps to build a close knitted relationship between family members. Through play, parents can assist their children in problem-solving as well as exploring their imaginations. It is also through play time that children learn to communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs with the adults. They are also exposed to social interaction skills where they learn to take turns and be sensitive to others’ feelings. However, it is indeed critical for parents to know how to child play with their children and how to avoid the commonest pitfalls when playing with children.
1. Follow your child’s lead
Instead of imposing your own ideas, the first and most vital step in playing with children is to follow their lead. Do not give commands or instructions, instead, imitate their actions and follow what they ask you to do. They will become more involved and more creative in their play. This will foster the children to think independently and creatively.
2. Pace the play to suit your child
Children love to repeat the same activity over and over again when they play. Parents are often bored by this kind of repetitive child play and tempted to hasten the pace by introducing new activity. The truth is that children need to practice in order to master a skill and if they are forced into a new activity, they often get frustrated and may give up playing when they find the challenge too great. Remember to allow plenty of time for him to use his imagination, this slower pace will also help to expand his attention span and cultivate his concentration.
3. Have realistic expectations
Avoid playing toys or concepts that are too advanced for your child’s level. You may think that your three-year-old is ready to complete a 40-piece puzzle and as you try to teach him, you may find that he resists. This resistance is the way he shows his frustration towards something that he does not understand but is being asked to do. The right thing a parent should do when you notice that your child is not interested in playing is to move on to something he does want to do. Allow time for your child to think, explore and experience, do not worry even if a puzzle game turns into a spinning game or a creative design.
4. Avoid power struggle
Many parents unconsciously set up a competitive relationship when playing with their children. Consider a parent and a child playing building blocks. The child may be happily engrossed in getting the first wall of his house done and when finally he does, he looks to his parent for praise only to find that his parent has built a whole house. This makes the child feels inadequate. He may also feels that he is involved in a competition with his parent and may finally give up playing as he isn’t equipped to win. He may also resort to other ways of getting control of the situation, such as having a tantrum.
5. Praise and encourage creativity
Do not judge, correct or contradict your children while playing with them. The process of creating and experimenting with them together are what’s important and remember that child play does not have to make sense to you. Cars can fly and animals can talk. Instead, focus on the socially appropriate things that your children are exhibiting, such as their concentration, persistence, problem solving efforts, inventiveness, cooperation and motivation during the play. Praise their achievements with enthusiasm and your good encouraging statements will help reinforce these good social skills.
6. Encourage make-believe, fantasy and role-playing
Never disapprove imaginative play. Instead, parents should encourage this kind of play because it helps your child to develop a variety of cognitive, emotional and social skills. Allow tables and chairs to become palaces and houses, and puppets to turn into friends or relatives. Imaginative and fantasy play helps children to think creatively and symbolically. It also teaches them what is real and what isn’t.
7. Use descriptive commenting
Descriptive commenting is a running commentary on the children’s activities and often sounds like a sportscaster’s play-by-play description of a game. By providing descriptive commenting, you show interest in your children’s play and it also encourages language development.
8. Curb the desire to give too much help
Parents who are too helpful may make it difficult for their children to learn how to problem-solve and play independently. Parents can provide just enough support, hints, praise and encouragement to keep them working on the task.
9. Give attention to play
Parents naturally seize the opportunity when their children are playing quietly to take care of their own business such as preparing meals or reading a book. This should not be advocated as the children are not made to know how much they are appreciated for their quiet play. Instead, they will interpret that only by misbehaving or playing noisily, they will get their parents’ attention. It is natural that a child will work for attention from someone he loves, whether it is positive (praise) or negative (scolding). If they do not receive positive attention for appropriate behavior (e.g. playing quietly), they will then work towards getting negative attention by misbehaving. This is the basic principle behind the development of behavioral problems in later life.
10. Prepare them for the end of a play session
Give your child gentle reminder 5 minutes before the end of the play session by telling him, “In a few minutes it will be time for me to stop playing with you.” When five minutes have lapsed, say to him,” Now it’s time for me to stop paying. I enjoyed this time with you and we can do it again tomorrow”. You should then walk away and ignore any pleading. Once the child learnt that he cannot manipulate you into playing longer periods of time, the protests will subside. More importantly, when they realize that there is a regular play session every day, they’ll have less need to protest since there will be another opportunity to play the next day.
It is important for parents to value children play and fun activities as not only they can help can help to foster their self-esteem, their social, emotional and cognitive development would also be enhanced. By following these 10 tips on effective child play, you will help your child to try out their imaginations, explore the impossible, test their new ideas, make mistakes, solve problems, be creative and gradually gain confidence in their own thought and ideas. This ultimately helps your child to develop into a unique, creative and self-confident individual.