Play: The Work of Childhood

For our children play is more than just about having fun. Mr. Rogers said it best, ““Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” It’s no secret that play is beneficial for our child’s social and emotional development. It’s natural that our children will seek us out as their playmates  AND I know I”m not alone when I say it can be a challenge to find the time and enthusiasm to engage in play with our children. Many parents, myself included, have experienced guilt for not feeling excited about another game of pretend play. But not to fear, I’ve got some tips to share about how to simplify play and make it more…..bearable.

Make it Special

I know how challenging to feel enthusiastic about play time, with a constant to do list running in our head, the endless list of house chores, work responsibilities, the list goes on and on. We might experience feelings of guilt for not loving play or not having the time/energy to dedicate to play. Or, we may feel burdened by play because we put pressure on ourselves to make sure their play is educational or Pinterest worthy. Play can be much simpler and transformative with less work on your part. It’s called….Special Time.

Special Time is a parenting tool, developed by Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting, that helps our children feel heard, felt, seen, and connected. It’s a simple yet powerful parenting tool that helps us engage with our children playfully that focuses on deepening our connection. The rules are simple

  1. We give our children our undivided attention, no phones, no distractions, no multitasking.
  2. We let our child pick the activity, by taking the lead they get to practice decision  making and problem solving
  3. We set set boundaries for safety and other logistical parameters (for example, we won’t be leaving the house for this special time). But otherwise, we resist the urge to correct or teach.
  4. We set a time frame so our child knows the beginning and end and so we know it won’t go on forever. Using a timer can be helpful (it’s best to start with shorter time frames 10 minutes, 20 minutes).
  5. We approach special time with enthusiasm! We engage with them fully, make eye contact, laugh, be silly, have fun, get down to their level and let them lead!

Give Yourself a Break

This parenting tool is an invitation to let our child take the lead. Children are constantly being given direction from adults at home and at school, of course there’s good reason to offer our children direction, however, it is rare for our children to have the opportunity to take the lead. Special time gives them that opportunity. And it gives you, the parent, a break from the pressure to make the play educational or teach a lesson. If they want to color outside the lines, it’s fair game during special time!

“Giving your child Special Time is an active form of listening, in which your child’s play becomes her vehicle for telling you about her life and perceptions.” – Patty Wipfler

Build Trust and Connection

When we practice Special Time regularly with our children we are building trust and deepening our relationship with our children. The confidence boost they get from choosing the activity and taking the lead is priceless! It can help build their confidence and their trust in us. Special Time can be especially helpful right before big events or transitions; before school or before bed time, before a doctor appointment or any event or activity that your child finds stressful or anxiety provoking. In our house we have found Special Time to be effective right before school. Before we eat breakfast I set my timer for 10 minutes and we have our time together. This has helped tremendously with my daughter’s school anxiety this year. I don’t LOVE playing barbies at 6am but I know how powerful those 10 minutes of play will be in helping her transition to school.

What is your relationship with play? Is this an area you feel you struggle as a parent? Remember, you don’t have to do motherhood alone! You can reach me HERE if you want to learn more about Special Time and other Parenting Tools .

Here’s what I love most about Special Time

  • It gives me insight into my child’s world, what she’s interested in
  • It helps me practice being present
  • It is structured, there is a beginning, middle and end
  • I feel like less of a failure in the “fun mom” department
  • It helps deepen our connection