I’ve been asked by the Department for Education for tips to help parents interact more with their pre-school children. As part of their ‘Chat, Play, Read’ initiative to be launched later this year. Here are my top ten tips…

  1. Spend time reading with your baby or child every day. Before bedtime is ideal, when you can have some relaxed fun time with your child, but if another time of day is better for you then that’s good too. Try to get into character and be enthusiastic about the stories and poems. It’s great if you ask them questions about the story or the pictures on the page, and to guess what might happen next. They will soon become your child’s favourites. Visit your local library to borrow a great range of children’s books for free.
  1. Ask your child lots of questions. If your baby is too young to answer, pretend that they have answered your question, and give an enthusiastic response! It is never too early to start chatting to your baby – they may not be responding but they will be learning. Ask about their favourite toy, game, friend, song or book. Ask about what happens when they’re out, how they’re feeling and what they want to play. Tell your child all about your world, and about things you love.
  1. Play with your child every day. It doesn’t have to be for long chunks of time – you can build moments into your daily routine, and during that time try to be happy and fun. Whilst you’re playing, make a big effort not to lead the game, give advice, judge or criticise your child. If you’re not sure what to do, just give a running commentary of what your child is doing. It will make their play feel important.
  1. Constantly try to engage your child in conversation. Talk about what is going on. Describe what you see. Read signs and talk about what is going on around you. Face to face chats are best, but you can have some great conversations on the bus or walking side by side. If your child is too young to talk, pretend their babble or noises make perfect sense to you, and have a full-blown conversation.
  1. Have rough and tumble play. Children love to be chased and picked up. Physical play helps children learn about their own strength, and deal with difficult emotions and anxieties, so do whatever your child finds fun and exciting. Affection during play, such as hugs, hair ruffles and pats on the back, is a great way to show your child that you love them and build an even stronger bond between you.
  1. Make mealtimes sociable. When your child is eating, sit at the table with them. Talk about anything and everything. Keep toys and electronics away from the meal table, so you can really enjoy some one-to-one time. As your child grows older, ask lots of fun questions to find out more about your child’s world.
  1. Let your child help around the home. When you are cooking, cleaning or shopping, get your child involved. Give your child a list of items when shopping, let them help you weigh ingredients, and give them a duster to help you clean. Although it may take a little longer, you will have a lot more fun doing tasks. Your child will not only learn how to help out, they will benefit from extra time talking and interacting with you.
  1. Spend time playing outdoors every day. Children need fresh air and exercise and benefit from being introduced to different environments, so try to let them enjoy the great outdoors and new experiences. Point at new things and tell them the names of what you can see. Children smile and laugh a lot more when playing outdoors. Your child can wear a raincoat and boots if it’s raining.
  1. Encourage your child to play and talk when you’re with other adults or family members. When you’re socialising with friends or family, try to include your child in conversations. Children learn by absorbing information through daily interactions. If the grandparents are over, or other friends and family members, ensure your child spends time with them, let them tell your child a story or talk about a particular subject. Learning at home is something that the whole family can be involved with!
  1. Make a list of all the fun things you can do with your child. So, you can refer to it when you’re short of ideas. Your list can include anything from ball games; making up a story where your child is the hero or heroine; creating a den with bedsheets and sofa cushions; going for a night walk with torches: having a water or pillow fight: reading poems or books in funny accents: or even putting on some music and having a family disco! You’ll be creating great memories for your child and having lots of fun too.
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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