Did you know that you are your child’s first playmate? Emotional self-regulation skills, social skills, and relationship skills come from that early bond you form with your child. One of the challenges for so many parents is that they are adults and have forgotten how to play. They are caught up with necessary and serious things like paying bills, working, managing the house, and raising children. However, playing with your child is “seriously” necessary.
Play allows a parent and child to bond and form a secure attachment. This attachment provides the child with a basis for a happy, healthy life. The trick to playing with your child, however, is two-fold. Firstly, you have to be able to let your “adult” responsibilities go for 30-minutes so that you can play and be present. Secondly, you have to enter the child’s world, literally and figuratively, and discover your “inner” child.
Here are five simple steps to help you let go of the heavy world of responsibilities and play with your child:
• Acknowledge that play is as important as the bills, the dishes, dinnertime, and work.
• Use your own emotional self-regulation skills to allow your adult stresses to fade away when you are playing with your child. Tell yourself, “This is important. I’m going to be in the here and now. Worrying about anything else during playtime doesn’t help me get those things done nor does it help my relationship with my child.”
• Take deep breaths anytime you feel physical stress. The breathing will allow you to relax.
• Smile and laugh even if you don’t feel like it at first because we know that pretending that you’re having fun actually produces real fun!
• A baby plays through close interaction. All the goo-goo and ga-ga baby talk and physical connection helps your baby bond to you.
• A toddler begins with “parallel play”. That means you basically play side by side with your child. Your presence is still necessary but don’t expect much interaction.
• Preschoolers will interactively play. You could have a doll and your child could have a doll and those dolls might talk to one another! You must remember, though, that your child will still direct your play. You are but a puppet allowing them to play out their imagination and they will love you forever for the time and effort you give.
• Elementary age children might let you be a creative member in playtime. As your child shows increasing independence in play, you may feel inclined to stop playing. It’s important to understand that playing is still essential to your child and to your relationship.
It is difficult to take time every day to play with your child. Although it is ideal to have daily playtime, weekly “playdates” are good too. Teaching a child that life is fun and playful rather than rushed and tense is so much better, wouldn’t you agree? The time and effort you put into playing with your child now will make a world of difference in your relationship later.