Guest Expert

Can Play Promote Positive Parent/Child Relationships?

Consistency. Structure. Planning.

As the parent of a child with ADHD, you probably feel like you're constantly focusing on consistency, structure and planning. You want to create an environment that is supportive for your child.

In the midst of all of these lists and reminders, something is missing. Your relationship with your child may feel strained. Now don't get me wrong, all of those things are very helpful. However, there's something important for you to add to this list.

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You may think that when your child is playing he or she isn't really doing anything productive- just having fun. Yet, research supports that when children play, learning occurs. Play is a child's first and most natural language. Play is how children make sense of the world around them. Consider what your child is doing when he or she plays dress-up or make believe. Your child is figuring out what it would be like to be a parent or a doctor or a teacher.

So I encourage you to think of child's play just as you would any other learning activity.

Play builds physical, intellectual, and social-emotional skills. Children communicate and learn by engaging in self-motivated, pretend play. Research has supported the power of play time and time again.

Build the Parent-Child Relationship

Being present with your child as he or she plays also has tremendous benefits to the parent-child relationship. When you attend fully to your child's play, your child will feel seen, heard, and understood. This strengthens your relationship. Similarly, when you have the opportunity to see your child's world through his or her eyes, you will gain a greater appreciation for your child's strengths. This will strengthen your ability to be your child's greatest champion.

Let Your Child Be the Play Director

Include time in your child's schedule for unstructured playtime. During playtime, remove all electronics (both yours and your child's) and allow your child to direct his or her own play. This means that during this special time, allow him or her to initiate games and even invent rules. Name what you see as your child is playing. Consider yourself a sportscaster by describing the play-by-plays (e.g. “The cars are racing down the track.”) Acknowledge your child's feelings by practicing active listening (e.g. “It's frustrating when that toy won't work the way you want it to”) and provide encouragement (“You're working very hard on that.”)

During this special playtime, avoid asking any questions or setting limits unless they are necessary. This conveys a trust in your child's ability and process. Your task is to convey a “be with” attitude toward your child.

Practicing these skills during unstructured, child-directed playtime will strengthen the connection and relieve tensions between you and your child. Besides, you might just find that you benefit from a little extra playtime, yourself!

What the experts say about Play

"Play is essential to the development of creativity, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, and making meaning." (Linn, 2008)

"Play helps kids develop social skills, memory, emotional awareness, creative problem-solving, flexibility and impulse control. It helps them understand the world and their place in it." (Shumaker, 2012)

"Play builds cognitive knowledge by offering countless opportunities for sustained attention, problem solving, symbolic representation… memory development, and hypothesis testing." (Hirsh-Pasek, Michnick Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer, 2009)

Reference List

  • Hirsh-Pasek, K., Michnick Golinkoff, R., Berk, L. E., & Singer, D.G. (2009).
  • A Mandate for playful learning in preschool: Presenting the evidence. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Linn, S. (2008). The case for make believe: Saving play in a commercialized world. New York: The New Press.
  • Shumaker, H. (2012). It's ok not to share… and other renegade rules for raising competent and compassionate kids. New York: Penguin Group.

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