Sunday, April 26, 2009
Moms and Playtime
Being a mom is such a combination of adjectives! Fun, exhausting, fulfilling, frustrating, draining, enriching...if you're a mom, you know what I mean. But one thing is certain. It's a big responsibility that should never be taken lightly. You are the primary source of education for your child. They learn more than their ABC's, but how to see the world around them. You teach them how to laugh, how to feel empathy for others, how to show kindness, how to value hard work, how to appreciate good food, a healthy life-style, a happy loving family - or conversely, you can easily teach the opposite of all of these. They do come into this world with their own unique personality and set of talents, but it's you that shapes their character. Not so much with lessons and explanations, although those are very important, but mostly by example.
What's the best time to teach your little ones? Playtime! Playing blocks, dolls or super-heroes with them can actually help you understand their world the way they see it, and help shape that view to be a healthy, fear-free one. Here are some great play tips for 3-8 year-olds that can probably extend to older years as well with some modifications.
!. Let them choose what they want to play (soldiers, doctors, fairy princesses, ballerinas, garbage men...) and let them start with you fully engaged in play.
2. Don't laugh at them or make fun of the crazy imaginative scenarios they choose, e.g. They want you to be the super-mommy who has the power to destroy bad guys with the remote control, and then zap a chocolate cake into existence with the same weapon. Have fun with it, play along and act like you think their idea was great.
3. Start looking for clues about their fears and their frustrations as they play. You will be able to sense how badly they want to be a hero, if their imaginary villain makes them angry or if it's just plain fun to pretend they're winning a battle. For girls you'll be able to see if she wants to be a music star and be admired by everyone, or be a teacher and order her students (probably you and all her stuffed animals) around.
4. Gently guide playtime to help them deal with their imaginary "problems" in healthy, positive ways without completely taking over. Let them feel like they have a part in the decision on what direction playtime takes. A boy who is pretending to be a warrior may really need to feel like a hero. Don't worry that as he swings around his sword and wants to plunge it into the giant Barney toy, that he'll grow up to be a mass murderer! He needs to believe that he is strong and can handle any threat in his life. Make sure, however that he is not acting out frustration or anger, because that shows he has underlying issues of aggression that you will have to help him overcome. Let him win the battle, but then produce another scenario where he'll need to show compassion or kindness, and be a hero for doing that as well.
5. Enthusiastically praise your child for their imagined conquests and achievements. They must always be the smartest, strongest, most amazing children you ever knew in your whole life! But then help to balance the scales if you noticed some negative attitudes. The girl who is dying to be the next Hannah Montana may need some reassurance that she is beautiful for who she is and doesn't need to compete with a TV personality. Go overboard and show her that she is even better than that in your eyes.
Parents who understand the value of playtime, the insights they can gain into their child's mind, and the effectiveness of play as a time to teach and guide, can cut off harmful attitudes and insecurities at the root, long before they have a chance to grow. Your child will carry those wonderful memories of playtime with you for the rest of his or her life. Don't let these years pass you by without investing in good, fun play!