by Kathy Eugster, MA
After working with children and parents for many years as a child and play therapist, I developed guidelines for parents on ways they could play with their children at home in order to support their children’s healthy development as well as to strengthen the parent-child relationship. These guidelines are outlined in detail in the comprehensive eBook available on this website entitled, Play Skills for Parents: Connecting with your child through play.
Basically, in these guidelines, I have identified nine parent “skills” to use during parent-child playtime. This article will give you some general ideas on how the skills I have identified for Child-Directed Playtime and Parent-Directed Playtime can be generalized and used in everyday situations outside of playtime.
Why use the playtime skills outside of playtime in everyday life situations?
The playtime skills I have identified in my eBooks are similar to parenting skills that child development specialists have found to be necessary for a child’s healthy development. They are based on multicultural and universal principles of healthy human interactions, such as respect, empathy, and boundary-setting. The benefits of using these skills are extensive. Using these skills outside of playtime will result in increasing the beneficial effects of these skills.
Each of the nine playtime skills I have identified in my eBooks has a positive impact on children’s development. Let’s look at how you can incorporate these skills into real life situations.
Watch your child and describe your child’s behaviors out loud using an objective and non-judgmental statement. (Note: do not do this if your child is doing something unsafe or destructive). By using this skill, you are providing your child with positive attention and letting him know you are interested in what he is doing.
Here are some examples of what you could say:
- You notice your child reading a book; you could say something like, “Oh, I see you are reading your Paw Patrol book today.”
- You notice your child jumping; you could say something like, “That jump was higher than the last one you did.”
- You notice your child giving a toy to a sibling; you could say something like, “Looks like you’re sharing the cars with your sister.”
- Your child is helping you fold the laundry and is sorting the laundry into colour piles; you could say something like, “I’m noticing you’re putting all the dark towels in one pile today.”
Feelings Identification Skill:
Throughout the day, identify any feelings, preferences, or desires that you notice in your child using a neutral, non-judgmental statement. By using this skill, you are helping your child develop a feelings or emotional vocabulary.
You could say things like:
- “You’re really excited you got invited to the birthday party.”
- “I can see you’re feeling sad because you can’t find your doll.”
- “I’m noticing you’re feeling a bit confused; you’re not sure what to do.”
- “You really want to stay at the playground.”
- “You’re mad that your ball rolled down the stairs.”
- “You really don’t like it when the vacuum makes a loud noise.”
- “You wish you could have that cookie right now.”
Remember, you are NOT asking your child a question about what she is feeling, but rather you are using your parental empathic abilities and then making a statement to identify the feeling that you are noticing. Say “Looks like you are feeling sad” or “I’m noticing you are feeling sad.” DO NOT ask “Are you feeling sad?” or “How are you feeling?”
When your child tells you something, verbally reflect, or paraphrase, what your child has told you. By using this skill, you are showing acceptance and understanding, which will encourage verbal reciprocity and open communication.
Here’s are examples of using the Paraphrasing Skill:
- Your child runs up and says to you, “I hate Johnny! He’s mean and takes my ball away!” You could say, “Sounds like you’re mad at Johnny because he steals your ball.”
- Your child points and says to you, “I see a blue bird over there.” You could say, “Oh, you found a bird with blue feathers.”
- Your child says to you, “Today I am going to give my doll a bath and wash her clothes.” You could say, “Okay, you’ve decided to clean your doll and her clothes today.”
Provide encouragement to your child by focusing on his efforts, feelings, and strengths rather than using evaluative praise. Evaluative praise (for example, “Wow, what a great job!” “I love what you did!” “Good job!” “Well done” “You did a fantastic job of coloring in that picture.” “It’s beautiful!” “You’re amazing at painting!” “Wow, you are so fast at putting that puzzle together!”) is appropriate for many situations, however it focuses on the successful mastery or achievement of something. By using the Encouragement Skill instead of evaluative praise, you are empowering your child and helping him to internalize his positive qualities.
Here are some examples of encouraging statements you can say to your child:
- “It looks like you know how to make it work!” (strength)
- “I can see you’re working really hard on that.” (effort)
- “You are very happy with the way that picture turned out!” (feeling)
- “You figured it out!” (strength)
- “I can see you are concentrating very hard doing that.” (effort)
- “It looks like you are really feeling curious about how that works.” (feeling)
When safe and appropriate, you can allow your child to make her own choices and decisions and refrain from making judgements or directing her in any way (unless you need to limit unsafe or destructive behaviors). By using the Independence Skill, you are showing respect and acceptance of your child’s choices, allowing your child to freely explore the world and to develop a positive sense of self.
Here are some examples of using the Independence Skill outside of playtime:
- Your child is getting dressed and has put on a dress-up princess dress before you take her to preschool. If the preschool allows the children to wear certain dress-up items of clothing from home to preschool, and if you want to use the Independence Skill to allow your child to make this choice, you would NOT say, “You can’t wear that dress to school. Go and change into your shirt and shorts.” Instead you could say something like, “Looks like you’ve decided to wear that dress to school today.”
- You and your child are digging in the garden and your child takes a hand fork gardening tool and says, “This looks like a rake; I’m going to rake the grass.” Using the Independence Skill, you refrain from telling your child what the tool is actually used for and you would NOT correct your child by saying, “That’s not a rake, it is a hand fork for loosening dirt in the garden. Here let me show you.” Instead, you would accept your child’s choice of how to use the tool and say, “You’ve decided to rake the grass with that tool.”
Following Directions Skill:
If your child asks you to do something specific, you CAN choose to do what your child is asking you to do by using the Following Directions Skill. By using this skill, you are allowing your child to experience a sense of control. If your child is asking you to do something unsafe or destructive, you would not do what he has asked you to do, but rather you would re-direct him to an appropriate behavior.
Here are examples of what the Following Directions Skill would look like outside of playtime:
- Your child asks you to button his sweater in the wrong holes; you could say, “You want the buttons to go in different holes today” and you would proceed to button the sweater the way your child wants.
- Your child asks you to put her cereal in a blue bowl; you could say, “Today you want the blue bowl.” You would proceed to put the cereal into the blue bowl.
- Your child asks you to fill up a basket with little stones; you could say, “Okay, here I go putting these little stones into this basket” as you start filling the basket with stones.
Your child may correct you, and that is okay, just do what you are being asked to do. If you are unsure of what to do, you may ask your child for more clarification.
When you notice your child is engaging in, or is about to engage in, unsafe or destructive behaviors, set limits and then warn of and enforce consequences to stop these behaviors. When you use this skill, you are helping your child feel safe and secure.
Here’s an example of using the Limit-Setting Skill:
- Your child is getting frustrated and throws a hard ball in the house. You would set the limit and say, “No throwing that hard ball in the house.” You could also say, “You’re not allowed to throw that hard ball but you can throw this soft foam ball … Throwing that hard ball inside is dangerous.”
- If your child continues to throw the hard ball, you would warn of a possible consequence by saying, “If you throw that hard ball again, I will put it away for today.”
- If your child throws the hard ball again after giving the warning of a consequence, you would then enforce the consequence and say, “Looks like you chose to throw the hard ball again, so I need to put it away for today.” Then you proceed to put the ball away for the day.
When you want to stimulate and maintain interactive engagement with your child, use this skill to encourage shared, positive interactions by increasing your emotional intensity and by capturing your child’s interest. Using this skill will support children in being able to maintain attention and follow directions.
Here’s an example of using the Engagement Skill to get your child ready to leave the house.
- Start off by saying something like, “I have an idea for a fun game. It’s called the “Counting Race.” Let’s see if you can run to the hall, get on your jacket and grab your backpack, and get back here before I get to the number five. Ready? Go!”
- Count slowly as your child follows your instructions. You can make it more exciting by counting in different ways, for example, “one…two…three…four…four and a half…four and three quarters…five! You made it!”
- Make this activity more challenging by adding the number of directions, for example, “Let’s see if you can run to the hall, get on your jacket, grab your backpack, put on your shoes, and get to the car before I count to fourteen. Ready? Set! Go!”
When you notice your child is beginning to get over-aroused emotionally, re-direct your child to a calmer activity and regulate your own nervous system in order to “co-regulate” your child’s nervous system. Using this skill will help your child not only be more compliant, but will also help develop self-regulation skills.
Here’s an example of using the Regulating Skill to get your child to move to a different location and stay regulated.
- Start off by saying, “I’ve got an idea for a game. I’m going to hide something in this paper bag, then I am going to call you to come, then you have to close your eyes and put your hand into the bag and, without looking, tell me what I have hidden in the bag. You sit here while I go hide something in the bag.”
- Remember to slow your movements and speech and to regulate your own nervous system as you do this activity in order to co-regulate your child’s nervous system.
- Walk to the location you want your child to move to and as you get to this spot, put a small toy or item in the bag and roll the top shut. Then, call your child to come.
- When your child gets to you say, “Now close your eyes and when I open the bag, slowly put your hand into the bad and, without looking, feel what is in the bag and then guess what it is.”
- Say things like, “Put your hand in slowly and carefully; you don’t want to tear the bag … take your time … slow down … feel all around the item … what do you feel? … use both hands if you want, but don’t look.” Express happiness when your child pulls the item out of the bag, even if she did not guess correctly.
What can you do next?
Try using each of the above playtime skills.
- Which skills are easiest for you?
- What is the most difficult skill for you to use?
- Which skill does your child like you using the best?
Copyright Kathy Eugster, MA, 2022.
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