Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to play with children and other essential skills

A few days ago, a friend who had read my recent time-out post asked about the play skills that I taught to parents, and I thought I should share some tips for making quality time with kiddos. Specifically, my friend feels like she is falling into a generational pattern in her family of raising kiddos in a quality way, but without making time for one-on-one play time with her little ones. If you are in her position, or feel pretty confident but are thinking about new methods of how to interact with little ones, here are some ideas that may help. They are taken from Parent Child Interaction Therapy, which I used this past year with my clients.

Basically, what I taught parents to do was to have five minutes of "special playtime" with their kiddos each day. Special playtime is a time for parents to follow the lead of their children, who are the experts in playing. As an adult, avoiding questions, commands and criticisms are an important part of Special Playtime, because those types of communication either take lead of the play away from kiddos or introduce the potential for arguments. Five minutes may not seem long enough to make a difference, but at first it can be really exhausting (especially cutting out questions!). But hold out! Five minutes is enough to make some real headway when you are going through a rough spot, or are looking for a way to "fill up" kiddo's attention buckets in a positive way so that they don't feel the need to act out as often. When special playtime comes regularly, kiddos know that it is time set apart for them specifically, and it is likely that they will start asking for it! The five basic tools for Special Playtime (according to PCIT) are as follows:
  • P = labeled praise
  • R = reflections
  • I = imitation
  • D = behavior descriptions
  • E = enthusiasm
Seems easy, right? I've talked about labeled praises before, but it basically means that as you play with your child, look for things you like about their behavior, and label the behavior in specific terms. For example, "Sam, I really appreciate when you use your indoor voice!" is a labeled praise, and "Great job!" is unlabeled. Although the positive connection is valuable in each case, labeled praises let your child know what behavior they need to repeat in order to get that same positive reaction from you in the future.

"R" is for reflections. This one sometimes trips parents up, because at first it can feel unnatural, or parrot-like. Reflections are basically a restatement of any sort of verbal expression that kiddos make. It can be simple as your kiddo saying, "I am drawing with the yellow crayon" and you responding, "You are drawing with the yellow crayon", or you can embellish the statement a bit to be something like, "Wow! I can see you drawing there!". For kiddos who are learning how to talk, this is an incredible tool. Having a big person repeat what little ones say can give them the approval to keep talking, and I've seen how much this encourages further language exploration. As a sidenote, reflections should all be positive, which means that even if the statement is not correct, try to avoid making negative corrections such as, "No! That's not an apple, that's a pomegranate!".

"I" is for imitation. Imitation is one of the simpler tools, and is exactly what it sounds like. During special playtime, imitation is doing what the child does, and is basically a reminder for parents to stay involved in the kiddo's play. For example, if your kiddo is playing with blocks, join him or her and add to the building or start your own structure. Caveat: I have to say this because I know you artistic parents out there... your imitation of your child's play should not be cooler than theirs! For example, if your kiddo is drawing a house with two lines for walls and a squiggly window, don't bust out your charcoals and sketch a McMansion! Believe me, soon the attention will be on your great drawing. Special playtime is really a time for kiddos to lead the play.

"D" is for behavior Description. Also straight-forward, behavior description is using your language to narrate what your kiddo is doing. I like to think of this tool as being like a sports announcer you hear on the radio, who pays attention to what is going on and simply describes what he sees. For example, "You're putting the donuts on your plate" is a totally acceptable behavior description. It may seem simple, but if you are watching your kiddos and enthusiastically describing what they are doing, it makes them feel really, really good and very much the center of important attention. Bonus: it is also a great way to add vocabulary to your kiddo's repertoire. What to be aware of? I have seen parents hesitate from using behavior descriptions because they are unsure of what to say, or what exactly their kiddo is doing. Don't worry, kiddos will correct you if you give an inaccurate description! And that will just be an opportunity to say, "Oh, *restate corrected description*! Thanks for teaching me!". Finito.

And finally, "E" is for enthusiasm. Any of the above skills are wasted without enthusiasm. It comes naturally for some, and not for others, but practicing special playtime without other adults around may be the best setting for you to start playing if you are self-conscious!

So, that's Special Playtime. Generally, I've encouraged parents to use two rules during special playtime, which are to 1) stay in the area, and 2) play gently with the toys. After the rules are introduced, have fun! If kiddos become destructive or mean during Special Playtime, just label their behavior as the reason that you have to quit playing, pack up the toys, and ignore their protests. Last time I posted with parenting tips I had some great responses, so if you have any questions or comments, please write in the comment box and I'll get back to you!

P.S. Tools like Special Playtime are best if not used for power wielding. For example, if kids are acting out, try to avoid using Special Playtime as the privilege they will lose if they don't shape up. Often when kids are acting out they may just need a little one-on-one time, so taking that away may inadvertently undermine what you want to accomplish. Good luck!


Damaris @Kitchen Corners said...

awesome! thanks so much for this post. I REALLY needed this today. 5 minutes is actually a lot of time when you're letting your kid lead. It's hard for me to have Enzo in charge.

Jamie said...

Thank you! I really appreciate this. Being a stay at home mom for the first time has left me wondering how to play with my kdi without getting bored myself. Any sort of direction helps me to feel like I am doing him some good. One question though, my kid is only 1 (almost) and doesn't 'talk' or really 'play' does the same thing work with him? Is there any suggestions for younger kids?

Lindsay said...

Thanks, Metts!

Heather said...

I do a lot of this already, so it's good to know that I'm doing some things right, even though I usually want to pull my hair out about a certain 5 year-old!