By Kathy Eugster
I love Child-Directed Playtime and I’ve written previously about its numerous benefits. If you’re able to spend 15 minutes (or more!) engaging in Child-Directed Playtime with your child, you’re doing so much to support your child’s healthy development and at the same time connecting more deeply and strengthening your relationship with your child.
In an earlier blog post, I’ve identified the 6 key concepts for engaging in Child-Directed Playtime with your child. Sometimes, though, I find it’s easier to understand something if there’s a concrete example of it, so that’s what I’ve done with this blog post. I’ve made up a play scenario based on my experiences from many years of interacting with children as a play therapist. This scenario reflects very common themes in children’s play of power and danger. I’ll show you what it would look like if your child played out this scenario and you were engaging in 15 minutes of Child-Directed Playtime with him.
This is … Child-Directed Playtime!
- You have 15 minutes free and you decide to have a Child-Directed Playtime with your child. You remind yourself that you will be in a Nondirective Role for the entire playtime, meaning you won’t tell your child what to do, suggest anything, or ask any questions, unless your child engages in unsafe or destructive behaviors, and then you would limit those behaviors.
- You say to your child, “I’ve got 15 minutes free now that we can spend playing together. Let’s go to your room.”
- When you get to the play area, you give your child an opportunity to decide what to do by saying, “You can choose what to play with today.”
- You watch your child to see what he does and notice he chooses a robot character and a piece of old jewelry you have given him for play. He then takes these items over to a pillow that is on the floor and hides them under the pillow.
- You remember not to ask him any questions about what’s happening and instead you describe what he is doing by saying, “Looks like you’re choosing the robot and some jewelry and you’re hiding them under the pillow.”
- Your child says to you, “The robot lives in this cave with the treasure,” so you paraphrase back saying, “Oh I see, the robot is hiding the treasure in his cave.”
- You continue to watch your child and notice that he starts to build some walls with foam blocks around the pillow “cave” so you describe what he is doing by saying, “Now you’re putting some walls around the cave.”
- You continue to watch your child as he keeps building the walls around the cave with the blocks and describe what is going on by saying things like, “You’re building a solid wall around the cave … You’re adding more blocks to make it higher now … Now you’re putting some blocks on that side.”
- Your child then starts to tell you about the security system that surrounds the cave and tells you how the robot can get in and out of his cave. As he tells you this, you paraphrase back what he is telling you, and remind yourself to refrain from asking questions or suggesting anything.
- Your child then gets another robot character and gives it to you saying, “You be him. We’re the Rangers. Come on, we’re going over here,” and takes his robot character to a space under the desk.
- That’s your cue to take on the role of the other robot, so you take hold of your robot character and follow your child to where he has put his robot under the desk. Your child indicates for you to put your robot beside his under the desk, so you follow his directions.
- Your child tells you that there is a bad “Emperor” who is capturing “Rangers.” Taking on the role of your robot, you identify a feeling by saying, “Oh no, I’m scared!”
- Your child says, “Run!” and runs back to the pillow cave, so you follow your child and move your robot over to the pillow cave as well.
- Your child says, “Get in! Get under there!” and opens up a spot in the foam block wall for his robot and your robot to get into the cave, so you do what your child says and move your robot into the pillow cave beside your child’s robot.
- Your child then goes to get the “Emperor” character, puts him into a helicopter that has a net, then flies the helicopter over the pillow cave and drops the net at the entrance to the cave.
- You describe what is happening by saying, “Oh, it looks like the Emperor has dropped the net onto the cave,” and remind yourself not to ask any questions for details.
- You notice that 10 minutes of the playtime have passed, so you say to your child, “We have 5 more minutes left to play, then we will have to stop playing,” to warn him that playtime will be ending soon.
- Your child sets the Emperor and helicopter down and returns to the pillow cave where the net has been dropped over the entrance. He then moves the piece of jewelry “treasure” close underneath the net and tells you, “This has super-power to blast off the net.”
- You paraphrase what he has told you by saying, “That treasure is really powerful!” and you watch to see what happens.
- Your child aggressively tosses the net away from the pillow cave entrance and moves his robot out of the cave.
- Keeping to the role of the other robot, you copy your child and move your robot out of the cave as well. You give voice to your robot and identify a feeling by saying, “Wow! That was exciting!”
- Your child says, “Now we have to build a roof over the cave” and starts to build a roof over the pillow cave with the foam blocks and another pillow.
- You notice that playtime is almost over so you say, “We have 1 more minute to play, then we have to stop playing.”
- Your child doesn’t say anything, but keeps building the roof, so you describe what is happening by saying, “You’re making the walls higher … Now you’ve put that pillow on top to make a roof.”
- When time is up and the playtime is over you say, “Okay, our playtime is up for now. Time to stop playing.” Then you get up and continue on with your day. Remind yourself that you have just spent 15 minutes of quality time connecting in a very positive manner with your child.
The key points to remember in Child-Directed Playtime are:
- Don’t tell your child what to do, suggest anything, or correct your child, unless you notice unsafe or destructive behaviors.
- Give your child chances to make up the story, decide what to do, and problem-solve.
- Follow your child’s directions as long as things remain safe and non-destructive.
- Describe objectively what is happening in the play.
- Paraphrase what your child is telling you.
- Identify feelings in the play.
- Don’t ask questions to your child, other than to briefly get clarification on what your child wants you to do.
- Do what you think your child would want you to do as long as it is safe and non-destructive.
- Don’t praise your child, but encourage your child by identifying his efforts and strengths.
- Limit any unsafe or destructive behaviors.
Try a 15-minute Child-Directed Playtime out with your child. See what play themes or activities your child chooses. Happy playing!
Copyright Kathy Eugster, MA, 2022.
Please feel free to pass on this article to anyone you think might find it useful.