Mahsa A. Lindeman, MS, MFT
Call: (925) 289-9733
Andrew Lindeman, MS, MFT
Call: (925) 322-0793
Location: 190 N Wiget Lane Suite 275 Walnut Creek CA 94598
Most people can’t argue with the fact that life is busy. You have a million things to think about and do, only some of which are your career, home life, errands, taking care of responsibilities for the children and trying to get in a little time for yourself and significant other. Its a never-ending cycle and completely exhausting most days. But somehow in the midst of all our “doing” we forget about just “being”, especially with our children.
Children crave and thrive on just “being” with their parents and playing. There is no agenda, no pressure, and no distractions. It is simply being present with your child and engaging in an activity that is led by them. This sounds so simple but why is it so rare to experience this? Mainly because we are so tired. Our patience and energy runs thin after all our “doings” of the day and the last thing we want to do is play with the kids. But missing out on this time is also missing out on some of the most important connecting moments.
Playing is a natural ability children possess. Playing allows children to assimilate things they learned throughout the day into their brains, it activates their imagination and the right hemisphere of the brain which is critical at this age, helps with social and emotional developments, and it allows them to process positive and negative experiences they have had throughout the day. It is said that a child that does not play is not a child at all. The importance of play for children cannot be underestimated.
So why should a parent engage in play with their child? After all, children play by themselves, with their friends, siblings, and babysitters. Isn’t that enough playing? Why does a parent also need to play?
Playing with your child can provide the deepest form of connection into their world. You are able to share with them the experiences that they find most important and relevant without even having to talk about it. How many times have you asked your child “how was your day honey? What did you do?” only to be met with a blank stare or “I don’t know”? Children are notorious for not answering questions in regards to how their day went. Yet, play with them and you may receive a very different response. You may find yourself knowing exactly what happened in their day.
There is, however, an important distinction to be made here and that is the importance of child-led play and not parent-led play. In child-led play you allow your child to lead. You are an observer and participate as the child allows. This is critical because this type of play is not familiar to most parents and therefore not practiced. Here are the basics of child-led play and how to incorporate it into your daily lives:
1. Set up a period of time such as 20-30 minutes where you will not be interrupted and your child will have your undivided attention. Giving it a special name like “(your child’s name)’s special time” will give it even more meaning for your child.
2. Express to your child that during this special time, they are in charge and can choose to play whatever they want. Of course set appropriate limits if it is something unsafe but otherwise it should be fair game.
3. Allow the child to lead in the play. Don’t direct what happens next, what color to choose, what the name of the character is, or anything else unless the child directs you to choose. Remember that this is their special time in the day to call the shots and helps to empower them in their abilities to take responsibility, make choices, and use their creativity.
4. Simply observe and reflect the themes they play. This special time is not a time to teach right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, morality or social norms. This is a free time that allows a child to freely express their inner conflicts, struggles, and impulses without judgment, fear, or constrictions. In every moment of a child’s life, they are learning about the expectations parents and society places on them. But during this one half an hour of the day, they are free! Free from all the constraints and directions. Free to express what they really feel and to process it. Only by processing it can they heal from it. This is probably the part that most parents struggle with because it goes against what we are taught is “good parenting” and what parents tend to do in everyday life. But again just try your best and you will find it gets easier.
5. Most importantly: Have fun! Laugh, giggle, make a mess. Release your inner child and just watch the magic unfold with your child.
Hopefully this will come in handy as a wonderful way to connect or re-connect with your child. The techniques I have described are a condensed version of child-led play therapy. Play therapy does wonders in healing children with trauma, grief or any other unresolved issues and is a technique I have employed in my practice for the past 8 years.