You don’t need to sit and build Legos for hours to spend time together. A parent and child can still build a greater connection (so children won’t need play therapy!)
You walk into your kids’ playroom and marvel at the shelves that are literally caving in to the stacks of games they’re loyally storing. There are bins of colored blocks, magna tiles, legos, cars, and, of course, the pink girly stuff. The selection is all nice and dandy, but all the toys in the world won’t do much in helping your kid foster relationships. Where does Mommy come into the picture?
Of course, even individual play does wonders in helping expand your child’s imagination. It’s fascinating to watch a kid enter her own world of pretend play and forget there’s a real world going on around her. But independent play is not enough. You can use even the simplest toys in the playroom to help foster a deeper, healthier relationship with your child.
Here’s my self-named remedy for time out. As a play therapist, I’ve realized that many kids get really anxious even when we simply discuss timeout. Often, a child’s misbehavior is just a desperate call for attention. With more “time in” we can easily (or not so!) avoid the need for a time out later.
How does time in work? Grab any toy off the shelf, preferably the one your child chooses, and spend just ten minutes being there with the child (one at a time). It’s ten minutes of undivided attention during which you’re seriously focused on your activity and playmate. Kids love when Mommy gets down on the floor with them, at eye-to-eye level, and finds joy in the things they find fun. Before you start calculating how you’ll squeeze this new routine into your schedule, remember that it doesn’t have to be more than ten focused minutes for the child to feel you’re there with them.
Back and Forth
Even while you’re standing at the stove and your kid is playing happily with her dolls nearby, here’s your opportunity to foster healthy communication. Express interest in your child’s play by asking questions about the stuff she’s busy with. “What’s your doll’s name today?” “Where are you taking her now?” Instead of thinking about tonight’s menu or your to-do list (it won’t run away!), be there with her. Communication doesn’t only have to happen when you’re down on the floor. Opportunities for connection are at your fingertips all day long!
Suppose you just got back from a lecture and your husband asks, “How did it go?” or “Did you enjoy it?” I’d bet that unless you’re a very expressive person, you’d probably say something like, “Very nice,” and move onto another topic of conversation. But what if he asks, “Who was the speaker?” “What was the topic?” or “How many women showed up?” Wouldn’t that give you a greater desire to share? Specific questions, as much as they may seem petty or technical, are the way to go in showing true interest, thereby fostering real communication. The same concept holds true in a parent-child relationship. “Did you have a good day at school today?” won’t get you far. Although they may seem less communication-oriented, specific questions like, “What passuk in Chumash did you learn today?” or “What was for lunch?” are way more effective in fostering a relationship.
So while you’re playing with your kid or watching him play, use the opportunity to ask pointed questions. “What are you building, Zvi?” Asking things like, “Are you having fun?” sounds nice in theory but these open questions usually have the kid nod his head, with him going back to his stuff and you to yours. You can keep the conversation going by continuing to ask specific questions. “How many floors does the tower have already?” “What color are the walls?” Watch your child’s eyes light up as he answers them all, opening his heart to connect to yours.