Don’t all kids play? Isn’t it every parent’s goal to have their kids learn to speak, read and write as their way to communicate to others? These are questions we hear all the time from parents. Here is what you need to know.
Play matters because it is the language of early childhood. Through watching children play, we understand their needs, desires, and true feelings. All children express themselves best through the language of play. In these common childhood situations, child’s play is much more valuable than what your child is telling you verbally.
Play Therapy for Children of Divorce
In my private practice, a child with divorcing parents recently told me that she was excited about having two homes. Later, while playing in the sand tray, she continued to build sand homes and destroy them with a Disney character known for being a hero. This play was repetitive and continued week after week during our sessions. Her play was much more indicative of her true feelings. She was able to express her feelings through “play,” something that she was not able to say.
Learning a New Skill
Children learn best through play. This is easy to observe in a preschool classroom. Is your child having difficulty using words? Watch what happens when you place him in a classroom with same age or just slightly older peers. All of a sudden there is motivation and a reason to communicate! The same is true with almost all areas of development. Peers or slightly older children are the best teachers in assisting your child to learn how to walk, talk, and interact appropriately with other children.
Shy or Non-Verbal Children
There are a lot of reasons why children choose not to use their words to communicate. Sometimes they feel too shy or perhaps they can’t articulate what they are feeling into words. Children may not be willing to talk to a new teacher. Perhaps they won’t look a relative in the eye when they are together because they are unfamiliar or haven’t interacted with them for some time. In these situations, play is a universal language. If the teacher begins to play with something interesting or Grandma begins to play with a toy that your child enjoys, chances are your child will warm up much more quickly than trying to rely only on words to connect.
Plato once said that you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation. Would you prefer to play with toys or sit at a desk with a pencil and paper and answer questions? Most of us don’t have to think very long to answer that question.
We know that children learn through pleasure and pain. Playing is fun. When a child pretends to be at a birthday party, we can observe and understand their language and communication abilities, sensorimotor skills, academic skills, as well as social-emotional development. Was the child able to remember the words to the happy birthday song? This is an indicator of the child’s memory. How did the child respond to the loud singing or the excitement of other children around him? The answer to this question tells us about the child’s sensorimotor development. Can she count the number of candles on the cake? Academic skills are observed. Emotional reciprocity or the give-and-take in conversations or social interactions is observed by how the child presents a gift to the birthday child. The information gained by the observer watching a child for several minutes is immense.
The next time you are struggling to connect with your child using words, don’t hesitate to try play instead. Pick up a “stuffy” and try the conversation. Get out the Legos and roleplay a scenario. Not only will you be more successful at understanding and connecting with your child, but you will likely have fun too!