How to play with your kids

By Drum Digital
28 August 2014

Playtime should be equally precious for parents and their children, but often this isn’t the case – because many parents simply don’t know how to play!

If you’re perplexed by playtime don’t worry, a recent toy manufacturer’s survey shows you’re not alone.

Parents might regard playtime simply as fun but for kids it’s a way of learning, developing and growing. “Children learn and grow more in one appropriately stimulated day playing than an average adult learns in a week at work,” says Johannesburg-based educational psychologist Melanie Hartgill.

Play develops children’s cognitive skills – such as perception, reasoning and judgment – and imagination. Physical games such as tag and ball-throwing promote motor skills and muscle growth.

So take a look at these easy tips and let the fun begin.

Playtime tips

  1. Get them to play Children need toys – but they don’t have to be expensive or flashy, educational psychologist Quinton Adams says. Inexpensive toys such as balls, playing cards, clay and crayons can keep kids busy for hours. Toys must be age-appropriate. Show your children you’re interested in their play activities. For instance, when they come home after a play date ask them what toys they played with and whether they learnt something from them.
  2. Limit screen time ?If they’re glued to TV or computer screens all day they won’t have time for real-life play. Electronic games can be educational and entertaining but they don’t offer all the benefits of real-life games.
  3. Be available ?Set aside time every day for play. “Parents should try for at least 10 minutes alone with each child a day, doing what the child wants to do,” psychologist Melanie Hartgill says. “This could be a problem in larger families or when parents come home late from work, but a shorter playtime is better than nothing.” ?Parents can take turns with playtimes, says Leila Abdool Gafoor, an educational psychologist in Johannesburg.  Single parents can combine play with the realities of everyday life, educational psychologist Dr Melodie de Jager says. “Encourage cooking together, taking the dog for a walk, a quick swim, watering the garden while talking to your child.”?Children seem to have boundless energy and some parents find more physical games exhausting. Play games  where most of the physical work is done by the child, Gafoor suggests. For a treasure hunt in your backyard all you need to do is hide items and give your child clues as to where they are – they can run around looking for the hidden items on their own.
  4. Let children take the lead? The best way to keep playtime fun and interesting is to let your child take the lead and you follow their suggestions. Don’t try to force them to play with you when they’re in a bad mood, hungry or tired – it will only end in tears.?And don’t behave like the “playtime police” by dictating when and what type of game they’re allowed to play. It will take all the fun out of it and your child will soon lose interest, Hartgill cautions.?If children become bored with a game don’t force them to continue with it. They have a short attention span and it’s quite normal for them to lose interest.?“Choose simple games so your time and energy aren’t wasted preparing an activity that was meant to keep your child busy for half the night but interests them for only 10 minutes,” she adds.?Children learn by repetition. Even though you’re tired of playing the same game every night you’ll just have to grin and bear it, Hartgill says.?That doesn’t mean you’re entirely at their mercy. If you’re playing a board game together and your child refuses to stick to the rules, don’t hesitate to disengage and say no, Dr de Jager says. It teaches the child life has rules and they have to abide by them.
  5. Balancing act ?As with most things in life the secret lies in balance. Playing together strengthens bonds between parents and children but that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your free time playing with them. Children must also be able to play alone as well as with other children of their age.?“You often have to leave [your child] to explore and learn for himself or he could become overstimulated,” Hartgill says. “That results in an agitated child and a teenager who’s demanding and expects to be spoon-fed.”?Playing with other kids their age teaches them social skills such as conflict resolution, negotiation and generosity.
  6. Let them fail and fall? “I realise how many heart-stopping moments there are in parenting, such as seeing your child standing on the edge of the dining room table or watching him walk backwards towards a step,” Hartgill says. “But as far as we can we need to avoid constantly warning our children with ‘careful’ and ‘watch out’. It makes children nervous and unadventurous, which inhibits their learning.”?It’s frustrating to see a child struggle but you have to let them work things out. Children learn far more from direct interaction than from just watching.?“So don’t always be so quick to do it. If they’re really battling try helpful hints and suggestions that will guide them.”?Also avoid correcting children if they’re playing with something the wrong way. “Your children are using their imagination to find out what the object can do,” Hartgill says.?Never belittle children over the way they play, Adams advises. Playtime should be fun for children and parents.

- Petro-Anne Vlok

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