Some of the world’s greatest philosophers, including Aristotle and Plato, have written about the reasons play is so important for social and emotional development. Highly revered play theorist, Dr. Garry Landreth, tells us that play helps us feel connected to one another; it stimulates creative thinking and exploration, while supporting a healthy, positive development of self. Stanley Greenspan, M.D., professor of pediatrics and parenting author, tells us that playing helps children develop the social skills necessary for getting along with others, which is core to their healthy development.
Most parents know the value of bonding with infants through physical touch, eye contact and games such as “peek-a-boo.” Play is an important way for parents to strengthen this important connection with their children.
Playing with your child can be the most effective way to see and understand what’s happening in his life. Using toys, children often reenact scenes from their own lives, or express fears and worries. Through play, children express their thoughts, feelings and dreams. When you join your child in her world of play, you will likely develop insight into these thoughts and worries, enabling her to develop solutions in a way that is playful and natural.
Getting down on the floor with your child and joining him in his world of building blocks and action figures communicates that you really care about him, his thoughts and his ideas. Just the act of getting down on that level and letting him guide the play while you follow along is enriching for your relationship. This shows him you respect him and will help him to trust and respect you in return.
Here are some tips for connecting with your child through play:
- Welcome the opportunity to get into “play mode” as often as possible so you can join your child in her world.
- Life lessons are more readily learned when presented in a playful manner. Make it fun and it will stick!
- Let your child lead! Instead of always assuming the role of authority, allow your child to be the one who directs the play. It’s an excellent way to strengthen the bond with your child and will only enhance a healthy respect of your authority when needed.
- Ensure time and space for unstructured, imaginative play and join in. Be in the moment with your child!
- Save large appliance boxes. Collect hats, shoes, dresses, aprons, fabrics and costume jewelry. Hold on to paper towel and bathroom tissue rolls and empty facial tissues boxes. All of these items provide a treasure trove for imaginative play!
- Bundle up for a wintery walk and build a snow-person! In the summer, go swimming together and splash around with your child in the pool rather than watching from the side. Go swing with your child at the park – don’t sit on the bench.
Embrace the power and importance of play for your child’s development. Play is the language through which children explore, express and cope. It is a great way for you to connect, show your child you really care and demonstrate a reciprocal respect in your relationship.