“Mama, do you know what I love the most about you?” The words were big, coming from a four year old and what was to follow was even bigger. I braced myself for the impact of his words.
“When you play with me. That’s it! That what I love!”
His words, so honest, real and raw! He is only four, but his thoughts and words are much older and wiser.
In Jansen’s world, the clean clothes, healthy meals, semi-clean house matter very little. The things that register on his scale of happiness are the moments we share together playing.
Our best hours of fun are spent playing “his way”: unstructured, child-led, “flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants” where the only rules that apply are his – and they are subject to change at any moment. THOSE are the memories he holds dearest, and obviously, what he loves the most about me.
We want our children to be able to play independently, and over time, they will develop that skill. But accepting their invitation to enter their world of make-believe, fantasy and childhood happiness once in a while, won’t stifle their independence. By joining in, you show that there are things they control and that their stories matter.
My favorite parenting book: “The Danish Way of Parenting” talks about the importance of unstructured child-led play. Play time is an important aspect of childhood as it builds confidence, resiliency, and vital social skills. I discussed this with the authors in my interview with them: “Learning Through Play, the Danish Way”.
Do you remember how to play like a child? I have learned that HOW you play is as important as WHAT you play.HOW you #play is as important as WHAT you play! #theDanishWay #Parenting #allplaymatters Click To Tweet
Use these 10 tips to enjoying the most important time with your child!
- Don’t have an agenda. This is your child’s special time to shine, so forget everything you thought you knew about playing with dolls or super-heroes. Your child will show you how it’s done.
- Don’t set the rules. Let your child set, and change, the rules as he sees fit.
- Let your child pick the toys and the venue. He will take the lead and make the decisions.
- Get down on the floor. Play at your child’s level. I know as we get older it is uncomfortable to sit on the floor, but if that’s where the playing takes place then that’s where you should be.
- Put away all electronics. The phone, the iPad and the TV should be out of reach and sight.
- Don’t watch the time. Be prepared though, sometimes it will feel like time is standing still. Every 5 minutes will seem like an eternity but enjoy it. Be present in the moment.
- Model the behavior you want: sharing, helping and showing empathy. Don’t “say it”, but rather “do it.” You can teach good behavior through play and through your actions, but try not to correct the game by saying “no, play nice” or “that’s not how it is done.”
- During play time, the child takes the lead. Don’t correct or direct.
- Watch your child’s imagination flourish and confidence soar. His social skills will improve as the two of you role play and he watches you model behavior.
- When reading books, let your child turn the pages and set the pace. You can talk about the pictures and the story. You do not have to read every word or even look at every page for it to be considered a success.
“Mama, LOOK at this rock! Do you see it? It is SO special!” Jansen grabbed a black rock from the flower bed. It was round and smooth and it fit perfectly in his little chubby hand. His fingers kept rubbing the cool surface of his treasured rock. He stared at it for quite a while, trying to decide what to do with it. I sat completely still, as if not to disturb the creative process taking place before my eyes.
“I want to paint it!” he finally decided, so paint it we did. Jonah, Jansen and I pulled out our paints, covered the table with a garbage bag and went to town with paint brushes and all their favorite colors. Once the paint was dry, Jansen decided to wash them. Of course, none of this made any sense to me, but I bit my tongue.
I knew what would happen as soon as the painted rock hit the water, but I didn’t make any objections to his decision.
Both Jansen and Jonah dipped their brightly colored rocks in the water – and of course, the paint slid right off the smooth surface. I braced myself of an epic meltdown from either (or both) of them. But nothing… instead, there were squeals of joy and excitement. Why? I am not sure, but it doesn’t matter – all that matters is that the kids were happy.
They dried their rocks… and started taking them with us everywhere we go. Even now, two weeks later, the two smooth, black rocks (with small paint remnants) are their constant companions in the car, in the stroller – even at the dinner table.
Next time your child asks you to play, remember that he is inviting you into his world. Opening the doors to his magical kingdom and generously offering you a seat on the throne, at least for a moment. Accept his offer, let him take the lead and show you around.
You may be surprised to find other doors opening over time. By joining him in his world today, you are setting the stage for a healthy and trusting relationship in the future, and isn’t that what we ultimately wish to have?
“The Danish Way of Parenting” – definitely a game changing parenting book.