Yes, I know, it has been a while. Life seems to continue to move at a rate I can’t quite keep up with and in the meantime, blogging often is at the bottom of my list (although I think of topics with every passing day). Anyhow, in the busyness of life, I have found that what I am often missing is just the simple “joy” of life. As I move from one task to the next, hurrying my children, driving tens of miles every day, and quickly eating meals in cars, I forget to simply enjoy the little things. Adults are horrible at this. Some researchers even say that we have lost our ability to connect with others in meaningful ways do to our lack of engagement. I’m not going to lie, too many days go by that playing with my children has just not made the cut. This depresses me slightly because I know that play is the best way to connect, teach and learn, and grow as a child and with every day that passes where I “forget” to play with my children there is a missed opportunity.
Early in the week I had an opportunity to engage in a learning session with other young families at our church. Although in previous sessions we had talked about things like parenting, family values, and priorities, our planning committee decided that playing with our children might be a great topic (I agreed). As I pulled out my play therapy text books, notes from classes, and previously designed handouts, I had a major gut check. Why am I not doing this on a regular basis? Why do I sit my children down in front of the TV while I “check a few emails”, why is unplugging, getting down on the floor, and engaging for only 20-30 minutes such a huge burden in my life? The reality is: It is about me. It is not about my schedule, the demands, lack of money, a dirty house etc….it is simply about me and what I like and don’t like to do.
THere are some simple truths about what happens to a child when they are able to engage in play with a parent/caregiver. First, Ccildren learn about the world and themselves through play. Play provides a way for children to explore and communicate. What they can’t say yet, they can play. In the process they are learning:
That they are important and matter in the world – self esteem.
What they like and don’t like.
Respect for themselves.
Ways to cope – with feelings, thoughts, ideas, worries, etc.
To be creative and resourceful.
To make responsible choices.
How to get along with others.
This is happening through a process. Not through flashcards, worksheets and lesson plans. Not through reading the right books, saying the right prayers or doing the right family devotions. Not by strict behavior management, rules and consequences but through PLAY!
So my challenge for you all is to think about incorporating a weekly Unstructured (Non-Directive) one on one play time with your child (one child, one parent). Yes, I said once a week (we can start with baby steps). Now, here are some guidelines (according to the father of play therapy Dr. Gary Landreth).
First, the philosophy of child directed play is that this process involves creating an atmosphere in which the child can realize his/her own natural positive growth and development. The parent-child relationship is enhanced and encouraged through quality communication and interaction. In this type of play the parent isn’t running the show but is following the child’s lead, joining with them, and providing companionship, not structure.
Next, here are the rules:
o No criticism
o Praise the effort – not the end product.
o Don’t ask leading questions.
o No interruptions.
o No unnecessary teaching or instructing.
o No preaching.
o No “leading” by parent.
o Do set the stage.
o Let the child lead.
o Be involved – track.
o Reflect feelings.
o Set limits – 3-step-limit-setting.
o Acknowledge efforts.
o Join in the play as directed by child.
o Have fun!
Let me know if you get a chance to PLAY this week. I know parents who have successfully implemented “special play time” with a child who has been having behavior challenges, and within weeks have seen a difference in the child’s demeanor and stress level. It seems that children really do need us as companions and guides, as playmates, in order to help teach them self reliance and regulation. I would say 30 minutes a week is well worth it.