Play is at the center of every child’s world, but perhaps you never thought about why play is important for your child or how to play with your child to enhance his or her development. Playing helps children develop physical and cognitive skills, explore their world, learn problem-solving and social interaction skills, work through emotional experiences, and have fun! Play really can have a tremendous role in fostering good behavior, and yes, there are certain ways to play with your child that are most beneficial to them!
Here are some reasons why it’s important for your young chid to spend time playing with you, and how you can make the most of that play time:
1. Spending time playing with your child strengthens the parent-child bond that will last a lifetime, get you through difficult years ahead (e.g. adolescence!), and even influence your child’s relationships with others as he or she grows up. Though you likely have a lot to do, set aside some time to play. You can even use the kitchen timer to play for 10 minutes, then work or clean the house for 15 minutes. Just tell your child “I have some things to do but I want to play with you too, so I’m going to use this timer”. This is also a good way for your child to learn to play independently for increasing lengths of time! A variation on this to encourage your child to help out is to play for 10 minutes together, then do household chores together for 10 minutes.
2. Playing an activity that your child chooses and letting him or her guide the play demonstrates your acceptance of your child and helps build their confidence and self-esteem. You are in effect saying ‘You have good ideas about what to do and it is fun playing with you’! While playing go ahead and tell her things like “You’re fun to play with” and “That’s a great idea”! Also, reflect her words and actions – do what she does and say the things she says!
3. Allowing your child to guide the play and tell you what to do gives him or her a sense of control. He may not be able to call the shots with many other things in his life (e.g. when to go to bed or preschool) but in the make-believe world of play he is in the driver’s seat! Let him tell you what to do and how to do it, and try to follow along with whatever he tells you. Use his language, mimic what he does, and ask him what to do next. He will love it, and giving him this sense of control will make it easier for him to let go of control when he has to let you be in charge for other things in his life.
4. Playing with your child gives you the opportunity to act out and teach positive behavior and new skills that you wold like your child to learn. There are two ways to do this. The first way is to model and practice social interaction skills with your child as the two of you play – e.g. ask him for a turn with a toy, invite him to play with you and share a toy, etc. The second way is to teach through the play or plot itself – e.g. have the stuffed animals practice going on the potty, eating a healthy snack, working out a problem, etc. As you play with your child, you may find that he introduces problems into the play that reflect things going on in his own life. You may or may not know if this is something real to him, but either way, working through it in play can help him learn to deal with similar situations that come up for him in real life.
Most importantly, play is for having fun, so have fun with your child and enjoy the moment!