Play is universally agreed to be an essential part of development. Through play children explore and learn about the world and how it works. Play has been found to support development of skills in emotional regulation, problem solving, planning and sequencing, object use, communication, and sets the stage for friendships and social competence.
However, it is often underestimated the importance of parents engaging in play with their children. Children have a special and unique relationship with their parents. By engaging in deliberate, focused, un-distracted play with your child for 5 minutes a day, you are providing the engagement and playful connection in the parent-child relationship which sets the groundwork for social competence, resilience and engagement.
So how do parents do this? Although we all play as children, it looks and often feels different once you are an adult.
Some tips of how to approach play with your child:
• See the value in the play, even if it is ‘purposeless’. Play can be purposeful and skill-building but can also involve imagination such as pretending to bake a cake with sticks and leaves. There are no rules or limitations!
• Keep it simple at first. Start with some toys or let your child lead if you are not confident. Being present is the important part.
• Allow your child to share their ideas and if it doesn’t work, help them to problem solve it. Play needs to be spontaneous and remember, you are partners in play.
• Enjoy your child and their ideas. Approach the play with curiosity and openness to learn more of who they are as a person.
• Let loose and engage in your silly side. No one is watching, so let it go!
If you are having as much fun as the child, then the play (in whatever form is takes) will be effective.
Plan to play with your child, even if this is for 5 minutes a day. You might find that you have so much fun that this time increases. Time spent developing your relationship with your child and assisting their participation in play is always time well spent.
Author: Caitlin Venn – Occupational Therapist