We should never assume that when we become parents that we are going to know everything about raising a child. They do not come with a manual. There are no instructions on how to do things and often many parents just find themselves wandering along on a journey that naturally evolves. Sometimes in a positive way, and for others it is something that can be learnt.
This became apparent to me whilst supporting a lovely family with their toddlers challenging behaviour. They just didn’t naturally have the inclination or skills to know how to play with their child appropriately. The family explained to me that their child didn’t know how to play and that he became very bored whenever they tried to get him to play with his toys. He was destructive and his attention wandered and he couldn’t play on his own. He was only three years old.
Children’s behaviour can very quickly turn negative when they are under stimulated or bored. They can be surrounded by all the toys in the world, but unless they are actively engaged and interested, their behaviour can quickly escalate into a downwards spiral. Young children in particular will look to you for ideas and engagement, and we cannot expect them to play on their own independently until they are much older.
Encouraging your child to play positively and learn how to share, negotiate, take turns, use their imagination and be creative- are all skills that can be taught by a loving, attentive and engaging parent.
Simple things that you can do to engage your child in positive are:
Get down onto their level – To truly interact and be involved in your child’s world, you need to be on the floor with them. Sitting on the mat, playing in the sand pit or jumping on the trampoline. It doesn’t matter what it is- teach them how to have fun!
Kids learn through repetition- It might seem boring to you, but kids love repetition. The love it when they have mastered something and they need to do it over and over until they achieve this. We had some puzzles that my daughter wanted me to play with her every day for about a month. She needed lots of support to be able to complete them. Now she independently does them on her own and tells me that she no longer needs my help.
Teaching your child HOW to play – You have to teach most children how to play with their toys. Especially when it comes to using their Imagination and creativity. Puppets, dress ups, building materials are all things that can create so much fun and are always so much better when there are two people involved. If they move away or become disengaged, keep modelling to your child how you can play independently.
Provide a wide variety of toys - Children learn how to play by observing and investigating. They are attracted to bright colours, sounds, textures and movement – things that spin, turn, bounce or roll. Providing your child with a variety of toys encourages them to experiment. My daughter LOVES playing with cars just as much as she does dolls.
Rotate your child’s toys – one of the simplest ways to keep children engaged is to pack up and put away toys after a few weeks. My daughter recently found an old toy in our shed and she has been playing with it every day for the past week. That said, it has been driving me insane as it has loads of sounds and also speaks in French! So the other great thing about rotating toys is that you can put them away when you have had enough. When you bring them out after they have been hidden away for a while, they are almost like new to a child.
Children need toys that are appropriate for their age- there is absolutely no point in expecting a child to play with a toy that is too young or too old for them. The will become bored very quickly.
Plan activities throughout the day– I encourage families to do all of their really loud, messy and creative play in the mornings when their children have lots of energy. Save the quiet type activities like puzzles, drawing, playdough, cooking or craft for later in the day when energy levels are down. We also want our children to start winding down before we start our night time routines.
Embrace the mess – Sand, water, paints and craft activities are always going to be messy – that is all part of the fun! So many of the modern new playgrounds these days are being created with sensory play areas – like sand water, chimes etc. Whilst at a park recently that had an awesome water play area, I was just astounded by how many parents wouldn’t let their kids get wet. It is the same with letting them get dirty. Sensations like water, mud, sand and paint are all really important for brain development, and allowing your child to experiment with these mediums and textures is incredibly important.
Packing things away is a very important part of the process – So many families complain that they have difficulties getting their children to pack away their toys. Children also need to be taught that an essential part of making a mess, is being able to tidy it all up again. Work together with your child to put their toys away appropriately. Make it fun – have a race to see who can pick up the most toys, divide it up so that everyone in the family does their part. Have a large container and tell them that anything that is left on the floor at the end of each night, goes into the tub for 24 hours. Give children warnings for packing things up – EG: In five minutes time we are going to have to pack up our toys and get our PJ’s on. Remind them again at 2 minutes and at 1 minute.
I know sometimes as parents we are tired or don’t feel like playing with our children. But remember the more time and effort we put into teaching them these skills when they are young, the more likely they will be able to entertain themselves when they are older.
At the end of the day all our children really want from us is our time.
We could provide them with all of the toys in the world to play with, but they would still choose to be by your side if given the chance.
I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, but it will be worth it!
Love Chrissie xx
Chrissie Davies is an educator, consultant, loving mama via an open adoption, and passionate advocate for understanding children with challenging behaviours. She is committed to empowering and supporting families to live the life they truly deserve. Chrissie lives with her husband and daughter in Melbourne. She uses her vast experience to educate families about how to live a happier, and more emotionally in tune family life, as well as sharing her experiences about local adoption to create more positive awareness.
"Empowering families to create the perfect mix of chaos & love"
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