The Family Therapist is In
From Four Months to Fourteen, Kids Always Want Time with US
December, 2007 - Issue #38
Children crave and thrive on interaction, one-on-one time and lots of eye contact. A child's social, emotional and academic life begins with the earliest conversations between parent and child; the first time your baby locks eyes with you, the quiet smile you give your child and they smile back... Your child is speaking to you all the time. It's just a matter of learning how to listen and the biggest opportunity comes through play.

What is play to your child? Do you remember a favorite play activity with your parent? I define play as time spent with my child in relaxed enjoyment. Play can be difficult based on the similarities and the differences between the parent and child's personality. Do you know your child's personality style? How does it fit with yours?

Play is a child's work - the where and when they begin to develop socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively. Play can include learning to enjoy each other's company and learning how to make routines more enjoyable. Play helps to develop a better understanding of what your child is telling you. Learning your child's cues is part of the language of play. Parents discern more about their child's world through play. The emphasis of play is on understanding experiences rather than on teaching milestones.
Every moment does not have to be a teaching opportunity. Too many toys, too many activities, too many play dates don't make smarter kids. Studies show too much of those things can substantially increase a child's anxiety. Close your eyes and think quickly: list two toys your child plays with that weren't purchased and aren't electronic.

Play increases the feeling of mutual competence. Mutual competence is the concept of having play interactions which enable both the parent and the child to feel secure, valued, understood and happy. Simply being together becomes enjoyable.

Do you feel you have interactions that support your child's development?
Do you feel you have interactions that increase your self-confidence as a parent?

Do you feel successful when learning how to help your child when they need you?

Do you feel successful when helping your child learn about cooperation?

"Play is a
- the where and when
they begin to develop
socially, emotionally,
physically and cognitively."

Generally people "play and learn" through one predominant modality - one particular way of sensing input. You've probably heard of visual learning; to learn from seeing or auditory learning; to learn from hearing and kinesthetic learning; to learn from touching, doing or moving. There are also many people who have a balance between two or three of these modalities. And although children usually use a combination of all three, it's important to understand how your child experiences their world and to look for the modality they use the most in their play in order to read their cues. Depending on their age, children communicate through fantasy play, words or actions and they show the themes of their life thru this play. Play is how they communicate ideas. Emotional dialogue initiated by a child begins as early as 4 months or as late as 18 years. Parents, are you listening? Or are you missing it? Often, the struggles we experience with our teenagers relates back to how we played with our toddlers.

It's never too late for child-led, non-directed "playtime" with our kids. Can you just "be" with your child? Can you simply follow and listen? Starting in infancy makes a substantial difference in building your child's self-esteem. However, no matter their age it's not too late to follow your child's lead in play. (The only difference is the style of play based on the age.) Let them lead the activity, refrain from initiating teaching or changing the theme or direction of the play. Be relaxed, recognize and follow opportunities, have interested, encouraging facial expressions, follow your child's pacing, be a player and join in, expand and keep going, don't change the subject (physically or verbally), resist the temptation to take over, appreciate your child's need for control, talk to your child in the role or theme, help bridge ideas by modeling problem solving. Pursue pleasure (or listening with older kids) over any other behaviors or any agenda and don't interrupt any pleasurable experience (or uncomfortable revelation).

And remember what J.W. Goethe said, "In praise and acceptance of a child, we love, praise and accept not that what we are, but what we ought to be."
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