How do you feel when someone tells you what to do? What might it feel like if your entire day was directed by someone else? As a 1970’s Brady Bunch fan, I was not happy when my father used to say ‘turn it off’ right in the middle of the best part. When we tell children to clean up, turn it off, or go get changed we usually interrupt them in the midst of their play, right at the best part.
Young children have very few opportunities to make their own decisions. From the moment they wake up they are told what to do, when to do it, where to go, when to go and how to do things. No wonder little ones protest as much as they do!
Giving children more opportunities to be their own boss and make their own decisions will help them not only learn new things but also help them feel more powerful in their own little world. If they have more power (decision making) in their world they will need to protest less when parents give them directions.
Child directed play is critical to all aspects of development including social-emotional. When a child directs his or her own play they get to make decisions (remember, they don’t get to do this very often), be absorbed in their imaginations, play with their creativity and practice problem solving in a way they can handle without getting too upset.
Here’s how it works:
1. Let your child choose what they want to play with – don’t interfere but encourage activities such as blocks, Legos, cars/trucks, etc. – something that doesn’t have rules – if there are rules, you child is being told how to play!
2. Sit with your child on the floor or at the table and watch them play. You don’t have to do much. Watch them and comment on what they are doing. Keep your hands to yourself and use your words to describe what they do. If they move the green car forward say “you moved the green car forward.” This teaches language skills (color – green, direction – forward) and it shows them you are paying attention to what they are doing.
3. Rule of thumb….kids love attention (don’t we all?!). When you give attention to the good stuff your child does they will do more of it. Practice paying attention to them and naming what they are doing while you watch them play. Its harder than it sounds.
4. Play for about 10-20 minutes a day, every day. This is harder than it sounds too.
5. Just watch them, describe what they do and pay attention. They will love it!
6. If your child says ‘mom, play…!’ you can simply move a piece one little bit and continue to comment on what your child is doing. You probably won’t have to do much more than that.
When we incorporate child directed play into our daily groove with our kids we have a change to enter their world instead of them having to enter ours. If we watch and pay attention they will tell us a lot about what they think and how they feel.
Try it! If it feels strange that’s ok. Roll with it a bit and give it a chance. I bet you will find that it feels pretty good and you may find that playing with your child is not at hard or as boring as you used to think.
Post what you notice😊