Children love to play and they don’t need much guidance from us on how to use their imagination, how to play with toys and how to run around outside. Children will engage with each other on the playground with ease and have an intuition that helps them identify what a toy looks like.
It can be a huge deal for a parent to engage in intentional play with your child. Intentional may sound the opposite of what play is supposed to be. As adults we can use intentionality in play to help children develop social skills, learn self control and continue to attach themselves to their parents.
Intentional play is a little different than simply playing with your child. Intentional play is playing with your child one-on-one. This enables the child to have focused attention from a caregiver through play. Here are some questions to ask yourselves to get started:
1. How do I play with my child now?
Take a minute to evaluate how you typically play with your child. Are you engaged in play or distracted? Are you directive in play and worried about your child following the rules? Or are you able to let loose and have fun? It is important to know your own style of play with your child so you can understand how you and your child may interact in play.
2. Am I engaged?
Intentionally playing with your child won’t be useful or fun if you aren’t able to fully engage with them. Put away your phone, your distractions of the day, and focus on your child. This focus will make them feel connected to you. It will also help you to notice opportunities to help your child learn new skills through play.
3. What is my goal of intentional play?
It sounds counterintuitive to have a goal for play with your child. Most of the time the goal is probably simple: have fun engaging with your child. Sometimes you might have another goal that you want to focus on. Have you noticed that your child gets frustrated when they lose? Does your child have difficulty with self control? Play can help with all of those things!
4. How can I help my child during play?
Children learn in tactile ways. This is why play is so important for children developmentally. As a parent the most important thing you can do with your child during play is pay attention to them, engage with them and care for them.
5. What do I do next?
Take a minute to evaluate after you play with your child. You know your child better than anyone. Does your child’s play seem different than usual? Does it feel like they are able to enjoy themselves around you? Does it feel like they are exhibiting a certain behavior that you may need to pay attention to?
Children communicate so much through their play. If you take the time and pay attention, you might be surprised at what you learn about your child during play time! If you want some practical ways that you can play with your child in an intentional way, check out next week’s post on creative play that encourages self-expression!