Child’s Play


When is the last time you PLAYED with your child?

Play is how children communicate. Play is the child’s language. Maybe you have heard that before—maybe you haven’t, but I wanted to take some time and break down what that means and why play is so important for children. Why? Because, so many times, kids today do not play or know how to play. Spending time playing video games or playing on an I-pad—is not the same play I am talking about and that is not the play that is so important in healthy child development.

There is an entire field of child therapists who use play to help children work on a variety of life events and situations. And, we don’t use play primarily because we are big kids who just enjoy playing with toys (even though that may be the case sometimes)—we use play because we understand that play is the way that children can make sense of themselves and the world around them.

First, there are different types of play based on age, development, and environment. The researcher, Mildred Parten talks about 6 stages of play:

  1. Unoccupied play.This is the beginning—children are babies—little movement—think about babies exploring objects. At this stage, babies are learning about the world around them.
  2. Solitary play.This is play when children are playing by themselves—they don\’t notice others and they are working on mastering standing/walking skills and setting the stage for playing with others.
  3. Onlooker play.This is play when children watch others play but do not join others in their play—they are learning about people—think of it like “people watching.” This is when they learn about social expectations and how others interact in and with the world.
  4. Parallel play.This is play when children are next to each other but do not interact with each other. So, children are saying “hey, I notice you and I\’ll get close to you, and I might play with the same toy, but I\’m not playing with you yet.”
  5. Associative play.This play is when children start to realize that they can play and engage in an activity with another person and doing it with another person is more entertaining.
  6. Cooperative play.This is play when children can work together to accomplish a goal while working through conflict, disagreements, different viewpoints, different emotions, and use many different social skills to interact with others.

Now, notice I did not mention ages when they go through the stages—that is on purpose because it is individualized to your kiddo; however, if you are noticing that your older child, think upper elementary is still at the solitary or onlooker stage, it may be worth it to speak with someone or just observe other developmental milestones.

Why? Because, the skills that kids use when they learn how to play and practice while playing with toys (not electronics) are the skills that they will need to interact with others at school and in life! So, take some time this week and grab some toys (the ones that do NOT need a charger) and PLAY with your kid! Try not to CONTROL the play. Let your kiddo invite you and explain the game/play to you. Just be with them and be in their world. It may surprise you what you learn about your kiddo and how doing such a “simple” thing might improve the relationship with your kid A LOT! So, take 15 minutes and play—how did it go?

Partnering with you,