It seems as though children’s lives are busier than ever! In addition to spending 6-7 hours a day in a classroom, today’s youth participate in a myriad of extracurricular activities: sports practice, dance class, karate, music lessons and the list goes on. Extracurricular activities can certainly be enriching and give children opportunities for fun and social connection. However, I have also seen parents over-schedule their children’s lives, enrolling them in multiple activities at once, making it almost impossible for a child to just be. This not only decreases the time a child has for self-exploration but also adversely impacts authentic connection between parents and their children. How? Because everyone is too busy running around fulfilling obligations to connect in an genuine way.
In the therapeutic setting, I help parents connect with their children in a way that fosters positive, peaceful, and present interactions – through the power of play! For some parents when I first propose this way of connecting, I get the reaction: What? I already know how to goof off with my kid! You might be having a similar reaction but I assure you the kind of play I am talking about is very different. I describe it in my new coloring book series:
In the therapeutic setting, I use what is called a child-centered approach, which is defined by play therapy guru Gary Landreth. This is following a child’s lead and trusting his or her inner capacity for growth and self-direction. It is essentially a nonjudgmental and non-directive way of interacting with your child. It means engaging in the activity from a place of observation, curiosity, and a willingness to learn about your child, rather than trying to teach, guide or change your child.
Using child-centered techniques while playing with your child sets this time apart from the rest of your child’s busy, adult-centered, day. As little as 15 minutes a day of focused child centered interaction can do wonders for your child’s sense of security, emotional growth, cognitive development, and self-esteem.
Here are 3 easy to implement child centered techniques to incorporate the next time you sit down to play with your child:
1. Observe and Describe your child’s play: This means making simple descriptive phrases, such as, “you’re playing with the red legos,” and “you chose to make the sun purple.”
Why is this important? Taking the time to describe what your child is doing communicates that you are completely present and tuned in to what they are doing.
2. Reflect! Reflect! Reflect! This involves reading and commenting on your child’s emotional cues, such as their facial expressions and body language. You might notice your child is perfectly happy playing with his or her favorite game, or he or she might get frustrated when something does not go as planned during play. Use phrases such as, “you’re so happy when you play with your trains,” “I can see coloring makes you feel calm.”
Why is this important? Accurately reading and reflecting your child’s feelings increases his or her sense of security and trust that you understand his or her unique experience in the world.
3. When Praising, be Specific: We all want to be acknowledged for our efforts. It feels so good, especially for children who inherently want to do the right thing; however, using the words “good job” alone can actually backfire because it is too general and does nothing to communicate what you actually appreciate your child’s behavior. There are some examples to be more specific: “It’s nice to sit and color calmly with you.” “You’re sharing so nicely with me.” “Thank you for cleaning up your toys when you’re done.”
Why is this important? This form of acknowledgement is focused, helps your child understand positive behavior and is actually based on your relationship. Don’t we all love to be appreciated?!
For more tips and strategies on connecting with your child through the relaxing activity of coloring, check out my Coloring book series. Color with Me, Mom! and Draw with Me, Dad! are available for preorder through Amazon.
Photo Credit: Marisa Howenstine