What can you learn from how a child plays

Talking to himself

My son talks to himself when he plays with his Legos. He’s been talking to himself while playing since he was small and he still does this at 10. The sound of his voice eases my brain; it’s familiar, calming and soothes my mind. It makes me happy to see him engaged and content. He’s in his safe place, making his tiny men come to life, and acting out his feelings. We also play together. He loves to strategize and beat me at chess. Lately, he’s into playing Stratego and talks about the Napoleonic War, which he learned about by playing the computer game, Roblox. My daughter prefers dramatic play rather than board games. She’s got a wild imagination and comes up with wacky ideas on the spot. I love her spontaneity and exuberance. She’s adept at creating imaginary scenarios like a pretend hair salon, a fashion show, or movie set. Her dramatic play is a lot of fun and I love the ideas she comes up with. She likes to film videos where we tour her room or where we act out situations with her littlest pet shop figures.

Kids play differently

When you imagine children playing you might see them in your mind on the playground playing tag or hopscotch, or you may envision two little girls playing Barbies. You might see a small child with a remote control car driving it off-road and making car engine noises. Each child plays differently. And we can learn a lot from observing how children play. Often kids act out their emotions by playing. If you pay attention, you’ll notice what a kid is communicating when they make their action figures interact. They might be working through their feelings about their parent’s divorce. They may be showing that they’re the victim of bullying at school. Children don’t necessarily communicate their feelings directly but when they play they feel safe and free to express their emotions.

Play therapy

There are therapists and counselors that work with the pediatric population. One of the most common ways to treat children for emotional issues is through play therapy. When a therapist observes the child playing they will notice behaviors and work with those issues to help a child grow emotionally. The therapist might step back and observe the child playing, or they may interact with their client and play with them. It depends on how the counselor prefers to treat the child and what the kid is comfortable with that determines the treatment plan. Play therapy isn’t all about having fun; it’s about working through challenging life struggles. And it has been proven to be effective in treating severe emotional problems in children.

Children lead the way

It’s fun to play with your children, but it’s important to let them lead sometimes. You can suggest a board game or playing hide and seek, but let them have a turn to choose the game. When they feel like they can make independent choices, it empowers them. Play can be more than just having fun it can be significant to a child. It’s bonding between parent and child, or if the kid is playing by himself, it can be an emotional growth experience. Some children self-soothe when they’re playing. Sometimes kids play by themselves because they need some space from what’s happening around them.

Remember what it was like for you.

As parents, we get wrapped up in trying to do a good job or for fill that role as a role model. But it’s also important to remember that you were once a child. Put yourself and your kid’s shoes and be empathetic to their experience. Listen to what your kid needs. You may be surprised by what you learn when you stop talking and hear your child’s voice. Listening is an essential part of a parent-child relationship. You have the power to strengthen your relationship with your kids by hearing them and respecting their feelings when they talk to you, and that’s meaningful.

Play helps kids grow

Playing for children is a transformative process. They can go from feeling sad and feeling happy while they play with their toys or act out situations that trouble them. In some instances working through their feelings could take a child months, but it’s worth it to see them feel comfortable and at peace.