BY ERIK FISHER, PH.D., A.K.A. DR. E MAY 2016
Playing is a critical component of the learning process for younger children.
Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development—it forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life. Play paves the way for learning.
I love to watch kids play, and I love to play with kids. I feel lucky enough to be able to do both every day. As a psychologist and a father, I love what I do and feel blessed to see kids show me who they are, what they feel, and what they are learning through the manner in which they approach play.
Kids, through their innocence, bring so much to their play experiences. Sometimes their actions are an expression of their inner selves, and sometimes their actions are an expression of what they have seen in their environment. What I often observe in my work with families is that parents want to correct, steer, punish, or even ignore what their child may be offering through the language of play. What I want to help parents and caretakers to do is to observe and participate with children during play.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been playing with kids, wondering where we were going, and then seemingly out of nowhere came a theme. For example, when watching a child draw, do they draw people? Houses? Trees? Landscapes? How are the people interacting? Are they holding hands? Playing? Fighting? Ask questions of your kids. See if they will tell you a story about their drawing. See if you can find recurring themes in their drawings. If there are conflicts or issues that arise through their drawings, see if you can help them find solutions.
Games are a great way to help see how kids approach life as well. Checkers, chess, darts, Chutes & Ladders . . . all of these games can give you an inside look at your child’s persistence, resilience, values and sense of fairness, impulsivity, and planning ability. These games are also a way to teach life lessons about taking risks and reaping rewards or consequences of those risks, about planning and observing, anticipating the moves of others, and even winning and losing with grace, honor, and dignity. There is no shortage of opportunities to learn and teach through games and play. Kids are often more receptive to learning in casual environments.
You don’t have to stop playing as your kids become older. The games may change, but the relationship keeps growing. Board games, cards, video games, question and answer games: there is no limit to the ways you can have fun with your kids. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are the games we would play while driving on long road trips in the car. Sometimes it takes some creativity on your part, but work to keep your kids engaged in play. If you set the patterns early in life, they begin the patterns that will last a lifetime.
Courtesy of Erik Fisher, Ph.D., aka Dr. E, is a licensed psychologist and author who has been featured on NBC, CBS, FOX, and CNN. Visit him at DrEPresents.com to learn more about his books, The Art of Empowered Parenting and The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict, or to check out his blog.