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Connect with your child using Child’s Play

Connect with your child using Child’s Play

With our abundant use of social media, we read endless quotes about spending time with our children: “Children spell love T-I-M-E”, “The best thing you give to your children is time”, “Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.” And now there seems to be a plethora of articles about quality time vs. quantity of time, and even some articles about how we are spending too much time with our kids. I’m not going to spend the time to review all the research about when, where, and how to spend time with your children. However, I do strongly believe in the importance of engaging in meaningful one-on-one activities with your children daily. Setting aside 10-15 minutes a day encourages strong individual relationships which is the foundation for shaping our children’s behavior.

Recently, I was feeling torn between things I needed to do, wanted to do, and what I felt I should do. I tend to be a task-oriented person, finding satisfaction in crossing off my to-do list. I often feel stressed when a task doesn’t get completed even if it’s not essential for it to be done that day. I found that I was not mentally present with my children even though I was physically with them most of the day. When I had a few moments to myself I decided that there were 3 items I wanted completed every day regardless of whatever else got done: First, to spend time increasing my spirituality; second, to spend at least a few minutes talking with my husband; and third, to spend 10-15 minutes with each child fully engaged in an activity. After trying my best to accomplish these priorities every day, I have found that the decision of where to put my attention has been easier to make.

While putting this plan into action I remembered an activity I introduced to many families as a social worker called Child’s Play. This is one example of how you could spend your one-on-one time. Here’s how it works:

● Have the child choose an activity or toy to play with. If possible, avoid giving input to their decision.

● Play alongside them with the activity they choose.

● Describe what they are doing while they play. For example, “I see that you chose all green blocks to build a tower with. Now you are adding a red roof.”

● Also include questions about what they are doing: “Why did you choose all green blocks?” Be genuinely interested in their responses and encourage natural conversation.

● And most importantly, do not give feedback or suggestions. A lot of our day is spent teaching and giving feedback to our children. It is beneficial to have a time set aside to focus on building our relationship rather than giving feedback during this play time.

You can personalize the activity to your own family by establishing a unique name for the activity. Some call it “Child’s Play” or “Me time”, and some families include their child’s name in the title. You might plan a time for the activity in advance, or let it happen naturally. If the child does know it’s their one-on-one time try setting a timer so you’re not paying attention to the clock.

The biggest benefit I found in doing Child’s Play is that your mind remains focused on your child and the activity because you are engaged in asking questions and describing what your child is doing. It also allows you to see playtime from your child’s perspective. The first few times I used this technique I found it difficult not to give suggestions, but once you get used to it, you see how your child plays in a whole new way. I was surprised to see how creative my daughter was and loved watching her imagination when I wasn’t giving my input. With your full attention and the absence of feedback, children feel acknowledged and build confidence that you trust their decisions. This encourages open communication, is great practice for more serious conversations, and increases your ability to listen to your child.

If you have five children, or you work full-time, or you’re just overwhelmed with the many things that keep us busy, adding 10-15 minutes with each child can seem unrealistic. Instead, focus on being creative with how to use the time. For example, include a child in dinner preparation, take a few extra minutes putting your child to bed, or ask a child to ride with you to pick up the carpool. Sometimes, your attention might be shared by more than one child, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to spend time and be engaged. And, you just might find that these little moments are the highlight of your day.