Structured imaginary playtime is a parent-directed play strategy where you can structure your child’s playtime according to your child’s needs at the time. It is done within the context of imaginary play where you can communicate ideas, role-model behaviors, and teach skills through the metaphor of play. Children do well with this, since play is often called the language of childhood. Children understand concepts much better through play scenarios rather than through abstract verbal explanations.
When I was working with children as a play therapist, I would often find that children would need some initial direction, structure or prompting to engage in playtime with me. After this initial direction, they would feel more comfortable getting involved in the play and would begin to use their creative ideas and imaginations.
Some parents worry that they don’t spend enough time playing with their children and feel guilty if they are not spending extended periods of time playing together. Well, the good news is, short but frequent playtimes can be almost as beneficial as one longer playtime. And when I say short playtimes, I mean anything lasting 5 minutes or less! I call these short playtimes “Mini Playtimes” and they can be child-directed or parent-directed.
In this article, I would like to discuss what I call “advanced parent-child playtime.” In advanced parent-child playtime, parents may switch between facilitating either Parent-Directed Playtime (PDP) or Child-Directed Playtime (CDP). In other words, you have the choice to “jump in” to a Directive Role to facilitate PDP where you are structuring and directing the play, or to “back off” to a Nondirective Role to facilitate CDP where you are letting your child lead and direct the play.
Parents have many questions around playing with their children. One question is, “When should I jump in and structure an activity, stimulate engagement, regulate emotional arousal, suggest ideas, or guide my child during playtime, and when should I back off and let my child take the lead, accept my child’s choices and decisions, follow my child’s directions, or allow my child some independence during playtime?”