Now’s a good time to teach your kids how to play on their own
With parents trying to work from home, prepare meals and deal with other children it is important that our children are able to play independently. Here are some tips on how you can help your child develop the skills to do just that. If you wish you can download the original article here https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/parenting/kids-independent-play-coronavirus-quarantine.html
Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Their Own
Independent play is a skill your kids will use for the rest of their lives — and a way to claim some time for yourself during quarantine.
That post was just one of many desperate pleas that came across my Facebook feed as parents in coronavirus quarantines vented online. Parents are trying to work from home while home schooling kids who came up in the era of planned play dates, packed schedules and screen time. This is new territory for many of us.
“We’re not bad parents because we give our kids tech and routine and we work,” said Meghan Leahy, a parent coach and author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” And now, when all of those routines have been upended, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Research has shown that our heavily scheduled lives have contributed to a significant decrease in the amount of free time kids have, so their independent play skills may not be ready for the moment we are facing.
That’s OK. With a few tools, experts say, we can teach our kids how to play more independently, which will reward them with lifelong benefits. “Independent play encourages time management, executive function and organizational skills, and emotional and physical awareness and regulation,” said Dana Rosenbloom, a parent and child educator in Manhattan. “All skills that help us be successful individuals as adults.” And, in the process, we can make our lives right now just a bit easier. “Our kids aren’t broken,” said Leahy, “but this can also be a nice time to tell them, ‘You have parts of your brain you’ve never used, and we can get there.’”
Start with connection.
“In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, it’s really natural for children to regress, which means their dependency needs” — for comfort, physical closeness, affection and communication — “are going to be paramount,” said Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., author of “Playful Parenting.” “It’s a bit of a paradox, but independence and exploration are not the opposite of dependence, safety and security. They flow from them.”
If you want your kids to feel confident enough to play on their own, Dr. Cohen said, “start the day with some really high-quality connected play. Set a timer for 20 minutes, put away your phone and say to your children, ‘I’ve got 20 minutes just for you. What would you like to do?’” And then, put yourself “at their service as a helper and a follower,” he recommended. “Don’t tell them what they should do.”
But you can encourage them. “Describe and comment on what they’re doing with no judgment,” recommended Laura Markham, Ph.D., founding editor of the online parenting resource, Aha! Parenting. “It might be a little bit boring for you, but your child’s takeaway will be, ‘Wow, my mom or dad likes to watch me play, I’m good at this.’” When the timer goes off, tell your kids, “I loved watching you play, and I can again later.” Give them a hug and go take care of your stuff. “Usually they will keep playing,” said Dr. Markham.
And start small.
“For a kid who doesn’t play at all by themselves, an hour is an eternity,” said Catherine Pearlman, Ph.D., author of “Ignore It!” “Start with five or 10 minutes and grow from there.” She also recommends offering to do something with them that they really enjoy afterward.
Create invitations to play.
There is a concept popular in the world of “unschooling” (a home education approach that allows children’s interests to drive learning) called “strewing”: creating prompts for play time that children discover on their own. “It’s one of the best tricks of the trade,” said Avital Schreiber-Levy, a parenting performance coach in New Jersey who has created a play guide for parents on lockdown. You put “spotlights” on toys or other objects by setting them up in an unexpected way, and then let your kids stumble upon them.
For example, create a vignette on a cookie sheet — such as a few dolls having a tea party or a group of trucks with little piles of dried beans. Sort Legos into piles by color or build half a structure. Put out a puzzle with all the pieces flipped over and ready to go.
Schreiber-Levy also recommends moving toys in and out of rotation. “When toys sit out too long, they go stale,” she said. “It’s about making them novel again, either because we take them away or we set them up in a new way.”
Make room for mess.
“Messy or tactile play — with paint, sand, clay, beads or water — is something many parents avoid, because it’s inconvenient,” Schreiber-Levy said. But, for kids, it’s “really soothing and will keep them engaged for a long time.” One way to contain the mess is to designate a space for it. The outdoors is the obvious choice, but you can also make a space inside with buckets, large trays and towels. Schreiber-Levy said her 2- and 4-year-old will play in the bathtub with shaving cream for an hour and a half, so she sets up shop with her computer on the toilet while they have at it.
Build a movement zone.
“Kids are not going to sleep or behave well unless they have exhausted their body,” Schreiber-Levy said. Outside activities are great, but you can also create a safe space inside for them to tumble. Clear away furniture and then pile in soft things — pillows, cushions, yoga mats, sleeping bags. With any luck the kids will end up making a fort that keeps them entertained for hours.
Build connection into play.
“Often when parents present independent play, it’s like slamming a door on the child’s face and saying, ‘Go play outside,’” Dr. Cohen said. Instead, challenge your kids to do activities you can participate in later, like creating a piece of art for you, coming up with a surprise for another adult in the home, or building an obstacle course in the living room using cushions and chairs. “Say to them, ‘When you’ve figured it out, come show me and I’ll time you,’” Dr. Cohen recommended. “Then it’s still about connection, even though they are playing independently.”
Customize your plan for your kid.
While independent play is a “teachable skill,” Rosenbloom said, she noted that it will look different for different kids, depending on their age, as well as their developmental age.
For children with A.D.H.D. or executive functioning skills that are developing more slowly, Rosenbloom recommended using dry erase boards to help them plan out their time. “One of the greatest strengths of many people with A.D.H.D. is that they can get hyper-focused on things they love and stay engaged for a long period of time,” said Rosenbloom. Choose those things for play time. “They are going to be independent for a longer period of time if we have set them up appropriately,” she said.
And don’t compare your kids to others. “Don’t look over your fence at what your neighbors are doing,” Leahy said. “Don’t look at Instagram. If you have a neurodiverse family, don’t go to the neurotypical families and compare. Play your own game and reach out to your communities.”
“If your kids are in school all day or on a screen all day, they need to stretch their independent play muscle that may have atrophied,” said Schreiber-Levy. “We want everything to happen instantaneously,” Rosenbloom said. But, if we can understand that this is a transition for all of us and have patience with the process, she added, it will work.
And this will not only help parents get work done, it will also help reassure your child in this scary time. “Play is therapy for kids,” Schreiber-Levy said. “If kids get to construct their own worlds and inhabit them, they play out themes that are troubling them. They get to seize control and emotionally process what is going on.” That’s something we all need right now.
Kate Rope is an award-winning journalist and author of “Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood.”
You may also like
Safer Internet Day takes place next Tuesday, 7th February 2023. Sadly more than 1 in 4 young people in Ireland have experienced cyberbullying, yet only 60% of victims tell their parents. As teenagers and children spend more time on the internet, ensuring it's a safe space is ever more important. To encourage conversation about life online and help parents keep their children safe, I'd like to share a free resource created by Switcher.ie. It's a comprehensive guide which includes things like:
I thought it may be useful to share the link to the guide - https://switcher.ie/broadband/guides/how-to-keep-your-children-safe-online/ - which you can include on your website ahead of Safer Internet Day, to help parents and children who may need some extra support. We've also put together some handy top tips you can use on your website: 10 tips to keep your children safe online
- How to reduce the risks online
- How to recognise cyber bullying and grooming
- How to educate children on cyber safety
- How to set up parental controls on devices
- Talk about it:Make time to chat about online risks and how to use the internet safelyas soon as they're old enough to go online. Encourage your children to speak to you about what they view online and empower them to act if they're worried about anything.
- Recognise the risks: Educate yourself about the potential dangers children could face online so it’s easier to spot warning signs. Get to know what platforms your children use, and learn about dangers such as phishing, grooming and cyberbullying.
- Teach the do's and don'ts: Be clear about the non-negotiables. For example, teach your child not to share personal details or photos with strangers and instruct them not to click on links to unknown websites or texts. Do encourage your child to question what they see and only accept friend requests from people they know.
- Spot the signs: Pay attention to your children's behaviour whilst on and off their devices. Being alert to changes in your child can help prevent problems from escalating. Some warning signs are withdrawing from friends or family, sleeping and eating problems or losing interest in previously loved hobbies or interests.
- Set boundaries:Let your children know what they can and can't do on the internet from the get-go. Agree on what devices they can use, when, and how long they can spend online. As they get older, explaining and negotiating boundaries may be more effective.
- Take 'parental' control: These ready-made boundaries put parents in control of what children can see online. They can be set up through your internet provider at device level to block specific websites and filter out inappropriate content.
- Be social media savvy: The popularity of social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat makes it harder to keep track of what your child is accessing online. Fortunately, each social media platform has its own privacy settings and safety tips for parents. Check them out before you let children have their own accounts.
- Protect from harm:Install antivirus software on family devices to minimise the risk of cyber attacks or scams. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra security on your online accounts. This can also stop children from signing into services they're not allowed to use.
- Set a great example: You're the greatest 'influencer' in your children's lives when they're young. Limiting your time online, discussing dangers you've come across, and questioning what you view can help reinforce the rules you are setting for your children and, in turn, influence their online behaviour.
- Seek support:The more you learn about online dangers, the better equipped you'll be to handle them. There are some great resources like webwise.ie, internetmatters.organd cybersafekids.ie to help you recognise and reduce online dangers and seek advice if you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying or is at risk online.
Short videos on the Importance of Play have recently launched which was a collaboration between North Central CFSN and Lifestart Services. Volume 1 https://youtu.be/xl2F2vZXhbg Volume 2 https://youtu.be/OOy4lmWggtM Volume 3 https://youtu.be/tmv40--l7fA Volume 4 https://youtu.be/Wr9bfTWddts Volume 5 https://youtu.be/7HLkBXvVTFE Volume 6 https://youtu.be/NuUXb51qZY0
This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services.
What is infant mental health?
Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.
The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.
The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books (www.mychild.ie/books) and also on www.MyChild.ie where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.
In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.
Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)
In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the www.mychild.ie website.
These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).
There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from firstname.lastname@example.org