So how do I play with my child to help their development?
Create special time. For ten minutes each day -Call it by the most special name there is — your child’s name. So in your house it might be Liam time
- Choose a time when any other children are being looked after by someone else (unless they are old enough to stay occupied with something.) If you have more than one child, you’ll want to set up a schedule so all siblings know their special time is coming soon.
- Set a timer for ten minutes. Turn off all phones so you can’t hear incoming calls. I suggest starting with ten minutes because it will seem like an eternity if you aren’t used to being fully present in the moment with another person. Don’t worry, it gets easier, and you do start to enjoy it!
- Say “Today you get to decide what we will do with our ‘Special Time.’ What would you like to do?”
Don’t structure Special Time. This is about following your child’s lead!
- Just connect to your child and be present!! If he wants to play with his blocks, don’t rush in to tell him how to build the tower. Instead, watch with every bit of your attention what he is doing. Occasionally, say what you see without interfering: “You are making that tower even taller….you are standing on your tiptoes to get that block up there. Don’t take control or suggest your own ideas unless he asks.
Take the pressure off your child to talk – avoid asking questions or asking your child to ‘say’ certain things ‘ just play and establish a connection’
- If he wants to do something that he isn’t usually allowed to do, consider whether there’s a way to do it safely since you are there to help him. Maybe you always tell him that it’s too dangerous to jump off the chest-of-drawers onto the bed, but for special time you can push the bed next to the chest-of-drawers and stay with him as he jumps to be sure he’s safe. Maybe he has always wanted to play with his dad’s shaving cream but you weren’t about to let him waste a can of it, or to clean it up. For special time, you might decide to gift him with his own can of cheap shaving cream and let him play with it in the tub, and then the two of you can clean it up together
- End Special Time when the timer buzzes. If your child has a meltdown, handle it with the same compassionate empathy with which you would greet any other meltdown and give him your full attention in his meltdown. But don’t think of that as extending special time, just as you would not give your child anything else he has a tantrum about, like an extra biscuit. Special time needs boundaries around it to signal that the rules aren’t the same as in regular life.
Remember if its not fun – its not working!