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.

(image by Haein Jeong)

“When I was a kid, there was lots and lots of free play with no parental interaction. My kids cannot be alone for five minutes. WHERE DID WE GO WRONG?”

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.’”

Here’s how.

“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.

“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.

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.”

“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.

“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.

“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.”

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.”

 

Coping with grief in the time of Covid 19 – tips from Jigsaw

The Jigsaw website provides great well being and mental health support for young people and for their families. Sadly, some families are dealing with grief at the moment – because of Covid 19 or other causes –  and it can cause added stress when we can’t come together to support each other as we would have done in the past. The article below is reproduced from the Jigsaw website and you can access the original here https://jigsawonline.ie/young-people/grief-and-loss-in-exceptional-times/

Grief and loss in exceptional times – Jigsaw Online

During the past few months so much has changed in our world. Certain things continue – people get sick, people die, people die suddenly. And sadly, many people have died of Covid-19.

But, everything feels quite different now, when the usual rituals and coming together are no longer available to us. There is no right way to feel, or to grieve the loss of someone we love. However, there might be some things we can do to ease the pain and strangeness a little. Of course, they will be different for everyone and it’s about finding your own way.

Saying goodbye

This can be especially difficult when someone we love is in hospital or a nursing home, and we are not allowed to visit. If they are well enough to talk on the phone or Facetime, then this can be a helpful way to connect.

You may prefer to remember the person as they were when they were well, and that’s OK too. Try writing a letter to express what you would like to say or what you didn’t get to say. This can feel supportive whether your loved one reads it or not.

Managing the funeral or service

Funerals and services are very different now; only attended by a few people. If you’re not able to go the service, then stay in touch with friends and family who are attending virtually. Remember, you are not alone.

When attending via live-stream, try to watch with friends and family. If this is not possible, connect with someone afterwards either on the phone or text.

It’s also OK not to watch, or to step away half way through if you prefer. You could think about setting up or attending a virtual family gathering afterwards. Come together to remember your loved one, exchange photos or play music that reminds you of them.

Other ways to remember

Some people find it helpful to create a memory box, either on your own or with family and friends. Gather photographs, objects, items that remind you of your loved one. Decorate your box.

If you have a garden space or even a pot on a windowsill, planting some flowers or a tree is a lovely way to honour of them. Many of the garden centres are opening up now, but you can also buy online, or ask neighbours or friends to help.

“It can help to gently name and acknowledge the feelings without judgement”

Allow your feelings

You are likely to feel a whole rush of different feelings at this time. These can include things like:

  • feeling OK one moment and not the next
  • moving from sad to confused to angry to happy in a few minutes
  • feeling relief rather than grief
  • loneliness, or preferring the privacy and quiet time you have just now
  • physical feelings such as a heaviness in your chest or a churning in your stomach
  • maybe you don’t feel that much at all.

It can sometimes help to gently name and acknowledge the feelings, without judgement and without moving too deeply into them. When names don’t come easily for a feeling, make up a word that works. Bleurgh, fuzzy, sparkly, numb – whatever word or nonsense word that works for you. Try and allow your experience, no matter what it is.

Use your senses

If you are experiencing strong feelings and struggling with grief, using your senses can help to ground you. Sometimes it can be helpful to ground through your hands and feet.

Walk in the back garden or in your bedroom in your bare feet. Steal some playdoh from your younger sibling and roll it in your hands.

Gather together a ‘soothe box’. Put in an item for each sense – something soft like a cosy blanket or jumper, a smell you like, a picture that calms you, and some music that you like. Take time for you. Wrap yourself up, with your favourite hot drink and listen to music.

 >> Listen to Jigsaw clinician Leona talk through a grounding tool called ‘ACE’

Talk or don’t talk

Some days it might helpful to be connected in with others, and sometimes you might want to be alone. That’s OK. Just be careful of cutting yourself off completely. It can be good to find ways to connect with other people that don’t involve much talking. Watching movies or playing games together, either online or with people in your home.

Remember it’s OK to laugh and to have fun in moments, and that it’s actually quite healing. Talk to family and friends about your loved one who has died if that feels right. Writing down how you feel is good too, if you’re not ready to talk.

Take a look at ways to contact Jigsaw if you would prefer to talk to someone outside your network.

Do what helps

This is the time to do those things you enjoy and are able to do in your own home. For example:

  • use a creative outlet that you find supportive, like playing an instrument
  • play video games, or watch a favourite series or film
  • do your best to eat well and rest well, even if you don’t feel like it
  • being in nature can  be very healing, so do try to get outside.

You might find comfort in returning to your study/work routine. Or perhaps concentration is difficult so give yourself permission to do nothing. Just let things settle as they are with no judgement.

>> Get some ideas from young people and Jigsaw clinicians about self-care during covid-19

 

 

 

How to Achieve Screen Time Sanity During Quarantine

Here is an interesting and very relevant piece from the Psychology Today website which you can access here https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie

Five steps for limits and allowances on pandemic screen time: A “Play Diet”.

Posted May 11, 2020

Two words come to mind when managing your family during the coronavirus quarantine: safety and sanity. Obviously, the safety of our kids and families is the number one priority. Social distancing, sheltering in place, and washing your hands have become the mantras of moms and dads all over the world. While keeping household sanity may be a distant second in our priorities, nonetheless, this supports safety by keeping families more content, communicative, and collaborative.

Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

Quarantining 24/7 is very difficult. Kids are stuck in their homes, don’t have an opportunity to engage in face-to-face relationships, and are restricted in their physical activities such as participation in team or individual sports. Many families live in urban areas, where COVID-19 is prevalent and home confinement is the norm. More fortunate are those who live in areas where they can venture outdoors more safely and have more breathing space, perhaps seeing friends from a distance and having more opportunities to exercise. Even in these cases, however, family sanity is difficult to achieve when you are living together morning, noon, and night; going to work and school in the same space, and contending with children who complain nonstop about being bored. This can be even more difficult if you have a child with ADHD or learning differences who needs ongoing attention. Family sanity can be helped by engaging in an activity that is quiet, focused, and entertaining—screen time. That’s why I suggest loosening your normal rules around screen time during the quarantine.

But don’t change your parenting style so much that it neglects your family’s health. If you choose to allow more screen time during the quarantine, do it within the context of expecting and modeling a healthy and balanced “Play Diet.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the LearningWorks for Kids construct of a Play Diet, it is a recipe of essential activities for children’s learning and psychological adjustment that recognizes the importance of a variety of play for child development. A healthy Play Diet consists of a balance of physical, social, creative, unstructured, and digital play and is important for every child and adult. Healthy Play Diets vary based on individual needs, interests, age, and on situations such as whether it is a weekday or during the weekend, while on summer vacation, or over the week after Christmas when parents are encouraged to modify expectations. The COVID-19 quarantine is one of those times for changing the rules for a healthy Play Diet.

The current pandemic has also changed the rules for parenting when it comes to screen time. Allowing more digital play/screen time is recommended for safety and sanity. Kids who are occupied in their homes and allowed to play more with their friends online will be less likely to run off to a friend’s house or pester their parents for things to do. In simple mathematical terms, there is more sustained leisure and housebound time for your kids than ever before. Proactive parenting that accounts for the excess free time can use Play Diets as a model for keeping the health and sanity of your home.

Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

But how to achieve a healthy Play Diet during the quarantine? First, model healthy living for your kids. Make time to exercise; talk to friends and family; engage in a hobby; take care of yourself psychologically and spiritually; and use screens to work, relax, and communicate with others.

Next, create the expectation that everyone in the family will engage in daily physical, social, creative, unstructured, and digital play activities. Be explicit with your kids. Yes, you will allow them to have more screen time, but it’s not a free for all, you expect them to engage in healthy activities daily. It won’t be easy, you’ll have to devote time, thought, and money, but it will help everyone get through the quarantine healthier and happier.

A healthy play diet is typically defined by spending a lot of face-to-face time with friends and family and engaging in social activities at home, at school, and in the community. It also involves regular physical fitness, for children and teens most often in the form of team sports, going to a gym, or participating in dance or yoga classes. During normal times, creative play often involves taking art or music classes, being involved in theater, playing in a band, or singing in a chorus or choir. Unstructured play is defined by hanging out with others with no particular goals, taking a walk outdoors, or running around the neighborhood. All of these play activities are more difficult during the quarantine, but not impossible with some planning and effort.

I will expand on detailed strategies for achieving a healthy Play Diet during the quarantine in future posts on learningworksforkids.com but here are a few basic steps that will keep screen time in check and get you started:

Pixabay No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay No Attribution Required

Physical Play: Take a family walk every day, no excuses. This is best done at a regularly scheduled time.

Social Play: Zoom family members or family friends each night before dinner.

Creative Play: Do something new every day. Your kids have more time on their hands, so have them try something new. Try a new recipe, read a book by a new author, take apart a Lego construction and make something different, do a craft project with items found around the house, or learn about something of interest through an Internet search.

Unstructured Play: Take a few minutes each day to relax, stretch, daydream, make a plan for the future, and appreciate nature and the spring season.

Digital Play: This is where your kids will tell you what they want to do. Allow age-appropriate gameplay and think about playing with them.

About the Author

Online Family Support Group tonight with LYFS

LYFS, the Letterkenny Youth and Family Support Service is running an online support group for families. The next meeting happens TONIGHT Monday 20 April at 8:30pm. You can find the link below to get into the meeting. It is recommended that you just use your audio and not your video for these meetings.
Families are all facing many challenge these days but are managing to find positives in the experience of lockdown too. These include
  • Family Meals- All preparing and eating together
  • More interaction between family members including teenagers
  • Having time to reflect on what is important in life (for parents)
  • Getting to know children better- their interests, friends and hobbies
  • Happy to be at home with children
  • Less stress (No rushing around, less pressure externally to get things done)
  • Having more energy to enjoy time spent with children
  • Teaching children new life skills- cooking, cleaning, tying shoes etc.
  • Being thankful and grateful for having family
  • Opportunity to explain to siblings about additional needs within family
But of course there are the challenges and these can include:
  • Keeping routines- waking up and going to bed
  • Monitoring social media/screen time- children need to connect with their friends but not at 3am!
  • Co-parenting- Social Distancing and Cocooning
  • Education- Home schooling and those getting ready for Leaving Cert.
  • Parenting alone and shopping- lack of support network
The positives and the challenges are so familiar to many of us. If you could do with the support of a group and the opportunity to talk to other parents then why not get involved tonight?
Next meeting-
Monday 20th April (tonight)@ 8.30pm via Zoom
Meeting ID: 832 862 344​
Password: 022222​
LYFS can be contacted on 0861237917 / lyfs@live.ie. / facebook-Lyfscommunity project (Private Message)for anyone who requires support to join the group, or for any parenting support needs.