How do you play with your child?
It may seem like a silly question. But before you had kids you likely didn’t spend a lot of time playing on the floor or using your imagination to escape to a faraway place.
Registered social worker Sabrina LaTona, a child behaviour specialist, says parents should avoid “teaching or instructing” during playtime. Just be present in the moment and have fun. The amount of time spent on a single activity will depend on your child’s age and attention span. If your child is getting frustrated or is having trouble listening, this may be a sign it’s time to do something else. Most of all, remember it’s about quality time. Put away your phone or other distractions and let the fun begin.
Here are Sabrina’s playtime tips for children ages 3 and up:
These activities are fun and stimulating. Use play dough, set up a water activity or take out the fingerpaints. Music can also stimulate the brain and help with later problem-solving. Create musical instruments by combining household items like an empty water bottle and dried pasta to accompany you while singing your favourite children’s songs or nursery rhymes.
Take out a board game or make up your own. Games can help families engage and teach values like sharing, problem-solving, team building and taking turns. If it’s a beautiful day, go outside to include some physical activity.
Use costumes, model toys, figurines and stuffed animals to act out a fun story. Follow your child’s lead and paraphrase what they say so they know they are being understood and listened to.
Start by reading a book together then take it a step further. Create your own story by asking questions about what happens next. Think of the Choose Your Own Adventure books from your own childhood.
Create Something Together
Take out the glue, scissors and paper to make a craft together. If the idea of tiny scraps of paper and sticky glue makes you shudder, try building a model car or doing a puzzle.
So you’ve picked out an activity but you’re still not sure how to connect with your child. LaTona has these helpful tips.
1. Get on the floor. Sit down at the same level as your child.
2. Mirror their behaviour. If your child is really animated, match their excitement. Sing along and laugh at their jokes.
3. Use humour. Just be careful about using sarcasm, which requires a certain level of development and understanding.
4. Show an interest in what they are doing by asking questions and seeking explanations. “What’s happening over here?” “Tell me more about this.”
5. Ask your child for help. Boost your child’s confidence by allowing them to take the lead and getting them to show you how to build or create something. This can be helpful when encouraging your child to try something new.
6. Cleanup: Make everyone’s least favourite part of playtime less stressful and more fun. LaTona says you need to be a model for your children. Use of the “first/then” model can be helpful. “First we put the game away and then we can go make hot chocolate.” You can also make the time pass quicker by learning a clean-up song your child uses at school.
Stay tuned for upcoming video posts on these helpful tips and more!
Here are some resources LaTona recommends for communicating and engaging with your child:
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. By Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson .
Brain-based Parenting : The neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment . By Daniel A. Hughes , Jonathan Baylin forward by Daniel J. Siegel
Everyday blessings : The inner work of mindful parenting. By Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn
Registered Social Worker & Child Behaviour Specialist