Parent Confession: “I Don’t Like to Play”
Being a speech-language pathologist, playing is part of my job description. And, frankly, that’s how children learn–by playing! It is imperative…but, as an adult, it can be boring! I remember when my son wanted to play “birthday party” over and over and over again. Confession, I didn’t want to play. And I felt guilty about it.
It’s ok if you “don’t like to play”. It doesn’t make you a ‘bad parent’! As caregivers, we have a million things to get done during the day and “playing” can feel exhausting. Some parents tell me they don’t really know how to play or even where to start. Here are a few tips:
Use a toy that lends itself to multiple actions. For example, blocks are great in that you can make a tower, use a car to knock it down, put them into a bucket, dump the bucket out, line them up on the floor, etc. Action and location words are easy to talk about: “blocks in” “blocks fall down!” “go on top”
Bubbles are your friend. Toys that require the child to make a request are awesome for expressive language. Wait for a request (be it verbal or gesture) before you do something. It’s important that a child learns that their communication causes something to happen. I also recommend you use this any time your child wants a snack!
Be quiet! This is a hard one for me. Let the child lead your play. Imitate what they are doing or any noises they make. If they are “eating” something, you do this action as well! If their car is “vrooming”-- you do that too! It is tempting to fill the silence with as many words as we can in an attempt to “teach”- fight this urge.
Expand for them at their level. If they say “car”, add on just one or two words (“go car!” “car up!”) . If you respond with a huge narrative, the child will be overwhelmed and unable to imitate you.
Give them new ideas. We can help children learn to expand their play scripts. For example, if they like to play with a dollhouse by putting furniture in and out of the rooms, demonstrate your doll sitting down to eat dinner in the kitchen or taking a bath.
Set a timer. Tell your child "I have ten minutes to play. Then I have to make dinner." This concrete time frame allows your child to know they will have your full attention until the timer goes off. It also gives you the reassurance that you will get to complete the tasks you need to accomplish.