Playing with children

Playing with your young child is one of the true joys of parenthood, and yet many parents struggle to play with their children. There are many reasons for this. Parents have so much to do, they may not remember playing with their own parents and they sometimes don’t really know what to do.

Start by describing your child’s play

A good place to start is to set aside twenty minutes and just sit near to your child and describe what they are doing when playing. This may sound a strange suggestion, but it is very effective. Your child gets a sense that play is important and feels good when someone is watching carefully and saying what they are doing. An example may go like this:

‘Oh you are just about to kick the ball. You are lining up the strike. He kicks! He scores! Oh you are getting the ball again. You are placing the ball on the ground. You are running towards the ball. You kick the ball. It goes just wide of the net. You are running to get the ball again…’


‘You have four dolls round a table. You are putting a saucer and cup in front of each one. You are looking in the teapot. You are putting a ball in the teapot. You are putting more balls in the teapot. You are giving each of your dolls a ball. Oh you are pouring out a cup of tea. Is that for me? Oh, lovely cup of tea (slurp) Thank you! You are giving your doll a cup of tea. You are putting one…two…three…four spoons of sugar in the cup…’

The benefits of play

The benefits of doing this are many fold. Your child hears lots of different words to describe what he or she is doing, so they develop numerous language skills. They know that you are paying careful attention to what they are doing, and they feel their play is important, which really helps their self esteem and confidence. You can do this with babies too. Just enthusiastically describe what they are doing and respond to their attempts at communicating with you. Children with special needs are also hugely likely to benefit from this method of play.

The sheer delight of a running commentary

I remember my son playing on ‘Math blaster’ a computer game which helped with maths. His older sister would stand over his shoulder and describe the battle animatedly. He loved it, and whenever he played the game would ask her to provide a running commentary on his progress.

Things to remember when playing

There are a few things to remember when playing in this way. The first is to let your child lead the game. Let them do whatever they want. Just describe it. Secondly, don’t be tempted to take over. As adults we have a different perspective on play, and can think of good ways to steer the game. Try to just observe what your child is doing and let them be in charge. Take pleasure in watching your child’s imagination soar and see them relish in their new found attention.

Play what your child loves to play

Of course as children grow older it is still important to play with them. One Mum I spoke to recently said that her child loves monopoly –a game that she herself dislikes, but was delighted to discover ‘Quick monopoly’ which satisfies her own desire to carry on playing with her child and her child’s love to play this game. You may find that your child likes other board games, computer games, pretend play, rough and tumble or ball games outside. Whatever it is see if you can set aside just 20 minutes a day where your child chooses how to spend time with you. See it as an
investment in your relationship and having fun together. Children change and grow so quickly –you will be building a bank of happy memories and who knows? You may actually enjoy it!

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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