Creating a regular play time routine with your child

We all live very busy lives with a lot of demands so when parents come to me and I suggest one to one play time with their child, I am usually met with a sigh followed by “I don’t have time” or “I don’t know how”.

Remember that children don’t want material things, what they really want is your time! Your presence really is the best present that you can offer. I want to give you some practical tips on how you can develop a play routine, which will help to strengthen your relationship with your child. In many cases where children act out or have tantrums, they are looking for attention. By providing your child with some positive attention, it could lead to less acting out.

How to structure your playtime

Decide on a time that you can give your attention to your child, and switch off your phone. Set a time limit for the play (e.g. 10,15,20 minutes”. Let your child know that this is your special play time”This is when we play together. We will play with these toys here.  If there’s something you can’t do, I’ll tell you.’

The opening and closing statements are repeated at the beginning and end of each play session, in order for children (and their parents) to emphasise that these play times are ‘special’ and out of ordinary time. This is especially important when play sessions are carried out at home—children need a clear message that the special play times are not the same as everyday family life.

It is important to follow your child’s lead in the play and you can track what they are doing. The most accessible skill involved in focusing on what your children are doing and feeling is ‘tracking’.   This skill can also be understood as ‘restating the content of what the child is doing’. Parents learn how to track children’s actions as they play.   Sometimes it takes a while to know when to comment verbally and when to focus on your child without saying anything.  In general, parents are encouraged to say what they think are the most important things their children are doing.  For example, “You caught the big bubble!” This is part of the larger goal of making sure that your child knows that you are interested in what they are doing.  It also helps children themselves to learn about what they are feeling and thinking.

You could also create a special play time box with resources included e.g. bubbles, balloons, playdough, cotton wool and straws (for blowing and sucking the cotton wool up and putting into a cup), hand cream, small ball, arts and crafts resources etc. You could also have a “not sure what to play” envelope, which with the help of your child you could write down different ideas on paper and pick them out of the envelope e.g. lego, play with the dolls house, play ball, dancing.

For the end: “We have 5 minutes left to play. …. We have 1 minute left to play. Our time is up for today.  We are finished now. It is important to hold the boundary for your child by having a set time limit that provides consistency.

Besides play time, there are some other suggestions on how to spend quality time with your child

  • Meal times- make a conscious effort to have breakfast or dinner together and for it not be in a rush! Dinner is a good time to ask the question “Tell me one good thing that happened today and one not so good thing”. This question often gets more results than “How was school?” to which the reply is usually “fine!!”
  • Buy a pack of post it notes- When children are younger, it is nice idea to write a little message for inside their lunch box. At home, you can leave a message on their pillow with a simple message “You are so special to me and you make me smile each day” or “Everyday I love you more and more”. You can imagine a child’s face lighting up 
  • A hand massage- this is particularly lovely for night time before your child goes to bed. Touch is so important for children and this is a nice nurturing activity.
  • Walks in nature- taking a walk is a good time to introduce some mindfulness to your child and be in the present moment. Using your senses is a good way of doing this e.g. what can you see, smell, hear?
  • Have a morning/afternoon/day out- with your child doing something that you both like. It could just be going for a hot chocolate, going to the cinema, or getting your nails painted together.
  • Messy Play or Baking- Children love to get messy and it is really important for their development that they have messy play experiences. Have a messy play kit with dry ingredients such as flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and let them experiment by adding water, paint, food colouring, vinegar. The possibilities are endless!
  • The most important thing is to have fun!

If you have any questions or feedback on this blog please get in contact by email anamsaorplay@gmail.com or by contacting me on 0860852870.

Until next time, Lorraine 🙂

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Lorraine O Hanlon Anam Saor Therapy

About Lorraine

I am a fully qualified play therapist and psychotherapist with over 10 years of experience working with children and families in Ireland. Read more.
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