On Your Mind: Letting kids just play!

By Leigh Wade, Early Childhood Center clinic manager

Since the day to day world of mothers is anything but calm, it’s important to make time for unstructured play with your child. Today, so much significance is placed on how to provide the most for your child and obtain the best opportunities, but these great intentions can often lead to over-scheduled kids.

We forget that children are natural learners and absorb all the elements in their environment with the great enthusiasm of a new explorer. Discovering  simple things around them helps a child understand the environment and relationships.

School, after-school programs, extracurricular activities, and parents’ own employment schedules often build the framework for the daily routine, which has become more and more challenging –with higher expectations in place. In an effort to support a child’s expansion of knowledge, the everyday schedule can get to a level that’s exhausting for the child and the parent.

It’s critical to your child’s development to have what we now call “down time” but what used to be considered just family time. Family time has changed in this modern time to what can be anxiety provoking for parents, which can then impact the child’s response to such efforts. The family can then develop a feeling of despair as the planned periods did not meet their goals or expectations.

It is crucial to give yourself permission to just PLAY. Engaging, noticing, observing your child in their world rather than creating the world for them is essential to how they begin to develop a sense of self and organize the pieces of the existence that shapes them and becomes shaped by them.

PLAY– what a simple but forgotten concept in the busy hubbub of today’s picture. Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Play allows for a level of attunement and engagement with your child that has fewer restrictions and opens the child and you to learn about one another and the creativity of the self.

Play naturally teaches a child how to work through challenges and master concepts that craft how they relate to others in the future. It is also FUN. Fun is another concept that unfortunately we’ve started leaving out of our lives, not to mention our children’s lives. Just because we’re having fun doesn’t mean we’re not learning.

Research shows that children learn more quickly as they play and engage others in play because we have a natural instinct to use this method to conceptualize real world situations. Play is a natural primary communication tool for children and leads to expansion of real world concepts. The brain is wired to feel joy when in acts of playfulness. Neural growth can be linked back to a child’s play time, so it’s truly important for their overall well being.

Parents are an essential element in building the roads of their child’s life map. One of the most significant actions a parent can take is listening to what their child is saying. Just sit back and watch your child’s play without taking on the concentrated role of “teaching” the child. Allow them to show you their world, and by this they will share with you their thoughts, feelings and needs. Play is a way your child will and can converse with you, but we have to be ready to hear them. We have to quiet our own voices and agendas to allow for this connection.

Engaging with your child without a prepared and ordered plan permits for free flowing exchange of ideas and time for a parent to hold sacred the space for their child to be the imaginative being they are. There is no other child like your child and they are of a spirit of their own that should be celebrated routinely. Embracing them by relating through play helps your child know you see them as an individual, you respect them as a person, and most importantly you love them and listen to them.

Structured activities and sports are not harmful to a child but over-scheduling them is and can begin to strain your relationship with your child if the focus becomes about the activity rather than the child.

We are a society taught to look toward the “outcome” or the “end” rather than honoring the process that actually gets us there. Often times we lose ourselves as we make task lists for not only ourselves but our children.  Balancing responsibility, learning opportunities and times to play freely with your child is a MUST!

So next time you feel you have not spent enough time organizing your child’s schedule, stop, take a breath and give you and your child permission to just play together. Allow your child to lead you into their world and try to see through your eyes what they see through theirs. Notice what amazing findings they make when taking a simple walk in the park. Sit down with them when they invite you to that delightful tea party with all of their “real” imaginary friends. Use the leftover mud from the dreary rainy day to make the most delicious mud pies ever baked, and, most importantly, glide and fly up and down those dirt hills like the super-heroes your child knows you both are!

Quite simply, don’t forget to JUST PLAY!

For more information about mental health and wellness log onto the Ozark Guidance web site at www.ozarkguidance.org or call 750-2020.  If you would like a Mental Wellness Awareness lapel pin, call 695-1240 and ask to speak with Staci or Jane.