Play is the language of children. You can facilitate communication with your child through weekly scheduled special playtimes. What does that look like and how does it work?
Children often do not have the ability to articulate what they are thinking or feeling, so they use play as their words. In play, children express what their lives are like now, what their needs are, or how they wish things could be.
Toys are like words for children and play is their language. A child uses words AND actions to communicate. Implementing special play time with your child for 30 minutes of focused attention a week, prevents problems and helps you become more aware of your children’s needs. Ideally, I recommend, 30 minutes with each parent with each child. Special playtime can give you the key to your child’s inner world. You can learn how to really understand and help them feel understood.
Basic principles for these play sessions:
- Setting a structured atmosphere where the child is free to determine how the time is spent
- Find a consistent time and uninterrupted place for your sessions
- The child is permitted to lead, and the parent follows
- The parent gives the child 100% of their attention, no phones, emails, or other distractions
- Parents show interest and observe the child’s play. If invited by the child, parents may also join in the play.
- You have no answers during this special playtime. Reflect back to them with I wonder how you could do that… Your child is allowed to make the decisions and discover solutions for themselves.
During these special play times, we want to respond and reflect to the child, rather than react. Like a thermostat controlling the environment, we want the ability to create the environment we raise our children in. When children’s behaviors and emotions escalate, we want to respond and remain a thermostat, in control of the situation, instead of becoming a thermometer and reacting to the child. During this special playtime, there are no reprimands, put-downs, evaluations, requirements, or judgements.
There are three main types of communication for parents during this special playtime: describing what the child is playing or doing, reflecting what the child is saying, and most importantly, reflecting the child’s feelings. Your intent in your actions, presence, and responses is to convey to your child I am here, I see you, I hear you, I understand, and I care.
Verbally tracking a child’s play is describing what the child is playing or doing. Describe what you see. This lets your child know you are paying attention, you are interested, and involved. Examples of tracking are you are filling that glass all the way to the top, or you have decided you want to paint next. You can also track and restate the content your child is saying. If they say I want the yellow crayon, you then say you want to color with the yellow crayon.
The most important type of special playtime communication is reflection of feelings. When a child is asked a question, the normal response is to shut down or tell the person what they want to hear. Reflecting feelings communicates acceptance and understanding of the child’s needs. We want to say things like, “You are happy playing with the truck”. “You are frustrated the lid will not come off the paint.”
When we reflect, we follow the child, instead of leading them. Avoid praise but encourage effort in your child. “You worked hard on that picture, and you are really proud.” A clue to tracking feelings is to look at non-verbal cues such as voice tone, body language, or facial expressions to reflect feelings.
There are many categories of toys you will want for you special play sessions. Something important to remember is toys are selected, not collected. Quantity is not the goal here. A sturdy cardboard box with a lid is great to store special playtime toys, such as a printer paper box. Then utilize an old quilt or blanket to spread out the toys along the edges and serve as a boundary for playtimes.
The first category is real life toys such as baby dolls, doctor kit, dollhouse, kitchen toys, and play money.
Then we want to include some aggressive toys like Nerf guns, soldiers, and animals.
Toys for creative expression like playdough, paper, paint, and crayons. An extensive toy list is located at the bottom of the article.
Toys need to be separate from everyday toys, but they do not need to be new. Utilize garage sales, resale shops, or dollar stores.
Sign up for my email list by the end of the month list using the link HERE to be entered to win an at home special playtime kit.
When asked to join in the child’s play, your responses should follow the lead of the child. Show me what you want me to do. You want me to be the robber. If you’re unsure, utilize a whisper technique to ask the child what should I say or do next?
When setting limits, first, never use special playtime as a reward or consequence. If it is scheduled, keep the appointment, no matter what the child’s behavior that day has been.
During playtimes, limits are not needed, until they are needed. When limit setting, use the ACT formula: Acknowledge the feeling, Communicate the limit, and Target the alternatives. I know you are mad at me, but I am not for hitting. You can hit the pillow. Or I know you would like to color on the dollhouse, but the dollhouse is not for coloring. You can color on the paper.
During the special playtimes, you will build a different kind of relationship with your child. Your child will discover they are capable, important, understood, and accepted as they are. When children experience these emotions in a play-based relationship, they play out many of their problems, and in the process, release tensions and feelings. Your child will then feel better about themselves and will be able to discover their strengths and assume greater self-responsibility. How your child feels about themselves will make a significant difference in their behavior.
In the special playtimes, you will learn to focus on your child rather than your child’s problems. Your child will react differently because how they behave, think and feel are directly related to how they feel about themselves. When your child feels better about themselves, they will behave in more self-enhancing, than self-defeating ways.
These special playtimes will strengthen the parent-child relationship, with trust, security, and closeness for both. Playfulness and enjoyment will be increased between parent and child. Drop me a comment and let me know what you would like to gain in your relationship with your child.
Be on the lookout for my course on how to hold special playtimes with your child on my website www.butterflybeginningscounseling.com. For more information like this, sign up for my mailing list by the end of the month to be entered to win an at home special playtime kit.
Toy List (with affiliate links)
Real Life Toys-
Baby doll https://amzn.to/3fr2Tp9
Doctor kit https://amzn.to/32bhYr7
Toy phones https://amzn.to/30aWCrn
Small dollhouse and furniture https://amzn.to/38SpNTT
Doll family https://amzn.to/32dd3FZ
Play money https://amzn.to/2Wg3aUi
Domestic and wild animals https://amzn.to/30lHdEL
Kitchen dishes/plastic food https://amzn.to/3904oYX
Dress-up clothes https://amzn.to/3gSKzWj
Dart Gun https://amzn.to/2Zsv9SS
Rubber Knife https://amzn.to/3eoQFvR
Aggressive Animals: shark, snakes, dinosaurs https://amzn.to/30lHdEL
Toy soldiers https://amzn.to/2CuMHob
Lone Ranger Mask https://amzn.to/38SrnVP
Small Punching bag https://amzn.to/2OnDgtC
Handcuffs with Key https://amzn.to/3fudfo4
Creative Expression Toys-
Crayons/Markers (at least 8 colors)
Egg Carton/Styrofoam bowl/cup
Deck of Playing Cards
Soft foam ball
Arts and Crafts Materials (colored construction paper, glue, yarn, buttons, beads, paint)
Tinkertoys or building blocks https://amzn.to/3froNZb
Tambourine, drum, small musical instrument https://amzn.to/38U0ilh
Magic Wand https://amzn.to/3j1yZKc