Play, More Than Just Fun

Parents often ask me what is the most effective thing that they can do for their children, the thing that will benefit them the most. As a play therapist, family counsellor and parent, my answer is unequivocally, PLAY! Play is a child’s language and toys are his/her words. “Play stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego” (Landreth, 2002). Through play, children practice skills that they will need throughout their lives. They explore different roles in play thereby learning about those roles. Have you ever listened to your child’s play and heard the exact words that you said to him/her come out of his/her mouth? Your child is integrating what you have taught him/her. Apart from being fun, play provides relaxation and an outlet for reducing tension. Play encourages creativity, abstract thinking and problem solving. Through play, children learn how to master new concepts and play increases a child’s self-confidence. Socially, play is very important as it helps develop cooperation, sharing, turn-taking and conflict resolution. Play aids in physical development as well as in development of attention and language.

Free unstructured play is essential for children and their development. Playing alone or with a friend or sibling provides many opportunities to learn and each of these types of play provide opportunities to develop different skills. As a parent, playing with your child is great way to strengthen the relationship with your child, especially if you let your child take the lead in the play and you follow your child’s lead. They love it if they can tell you what to do and this is a perfectly appropriate place for them to do it: in their own world. Enter and be humbled by what their play can teach you!

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Mistakes

It’s 2012, a new year, a new start and many good intentions.  If I can suggest one resolution for all families to make this year it would be this: Make this the year when you truly embrace the saying “Mistakes are for learning.”  Model this for your children by saying, “Oh, I did this wrong.  Let’s see if I can figure out how to do it.”  Don’t berate yourself for making a mistake, take it in stride.  Show that mistakes mean that you are on your way to learning something new.

The outcome for your child is that he may start to let go of the need to always do it right and will start to be able to accept that mistakes are a normal process.  This releases your child of the huge burden of thinking that anything that’s not always right is not good enough.  So when your child is upset with him/herself because s/he made a mistake just say, “I see you’re upset that you didn’t get this all right.  You would really like to be able to do it better.”  You’re acknowledging the feelings without any judgement that making mistakes is not okay.

This leads to a more self-confident child, one who accepts him/herself for who s/he is.  Thomas Edison said “I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Thanks for that Thomas!