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SALT LAKE CITY — It can be difficult for busy parents to make time to play with their children. However, parents should consider playtime with their children as an investment.
"When a parent plays with a child it gives (that child) the message that says, 'You are worth my time. You are a valuable person,'” says Dr. William Sears, a renowned pediatrician, author, and consultant for BabyTalk and Parenting magazines.
Benefits of parent-child playtime
In an article on askdrsears.com, "12 ways to help your child build self-confidence," Sears says this investment by an adult they love increases a child's self esteem, giving them feelings of importance and accomplishment and diminishing future behavior problems.
Playtime is an excellent opportunity for parents to learn about their children. While playing with his son, Matthew, Sears was able to learn about Matthew’s temperament and his capabilities as he grew and developed.
“Playtime puts us on our child’s level, helping parents get behind the eyes and into the mind of their child,” Sears points out. “The child reveals himself to the parent — and visa versa — during play.”
Put your child in charge
Living in an adult world can reduce the skill of playing. Many adults are at a disadvantage when it is time to play, not knowing exactly how to do it. Sears suggests parents keep in mind that an activity initiated by the child holds the child’s attention longer than one suggested by an adult playmate.
“More learning takes place when the child chooses what to do,” Sears says. Having the child choose the activity can also increase his self esteem because he knows adults like to do the things he does.
Parents can get bored quickly after playing the same games or reading the same book time and again. “If you want to bring something new to the same old play activity, add your own new twists as the play continues," Sears suggests. "Stop to talk about the book: ‘What would you do if the Cat in the Hat came to our door?’ ‘Let’s turn this block tower into a parking garage.’”
Be 100 percent involved
Just showing up for playtime may not be enough to make a difference in a child’s self esteem. Instead of becoming a positive bonding experience, the play session can give the child the impression that they aren’t important. They are able to feel when they have your attention.
If your body is with your child but your mind is at work, your child will sense that you have tuned out, and neither one of you benefits from the time together.
–Dr. William Sears
“If your body is with your child but your mind is at work, your child will sense that you have tuned out, and neither one of you benefits from the time together,” Sears says. “You lose the opportunity to learn about and enjoy your child—and to relearn how to play.”
Sears admits that he had a hard time getting down to his baby’s level of enjoying unstructured, seemingly unproductive play. He felt he had so many “more important” things to do. However, once he realized how much he and his child were benefiting, playtime became special.
“It became therapeutic for me," Sears says. "I needed time away from some of those other things to focus on this important little person who was, without realizing it, teaching me to relax.”
When a parent can redefine playtime in their mind as an investment, it becomes enjoyable for both child and adult. It can be a struggle for adults to let go of their grownup agenda, but Sears gives parents this reminder: “You don’t have to play all day long, nor will your child want you to (unless he senses your resistance!).”
The more interest you show in doing things with your children early on, the more interest your children will have in doing things with you when they’re older. This opens up future opportunities for you to involve them in your play and your work.
“Think of it this way: You are doing the most important job in the world — raising a human being,” Sears says.
(Main image: Courtesy Holly Johnson at hollyshobbysphoto.blogspot.com)
Sheryl C. S. Johnson blogs at www.sherylcsjohnson.blogspot.com.