Guest post from Janine Howe, BCBA, of Foundation Lane. This is Part 2 of a 2-part series. If you missed the first part- go check it out! 

Are you a parent who has experienced the tiny ‘threenager’ who attempts to control your playtime with them? Some people might say these are the future leaders of the world but there is so much more to building meaningful play with your child that will build lifelong skills. We are back for Part 2 of “You Want Me to Play Pirates, Again?” If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.

Put your hand up if you are a parent who WANTS to play with your children but have no idea where to start? Or you are falling victim to the bossy preschooler who knows EVERYTHING and tells you exactly how to play with every single toy. Here are 5 steps to build your play skills and increase your comfort with putting on your silly hat:

Step 1: Follow Your Child’s Lead

Make a point to narrate your child’s play and imitate their behavior. Do your best to avoid asking them questions or giving them directions on how to play. This part is harder than you might think. We all tend to ask our children too many questions when we are trying to play with them. For example, if your child is playing with pirates and walking around the room, grab another pirate and follow them around the room while saying, “Aaaarrrrggghhh. Ahoy, Matey!”

Step 2: Expand on their play

Once you master narrating and imitating your child, try expanding on their play with one or two actions and comments. As in the example above, while playing with the pirates, you could have your pirate jump on the table and say, “This must be our ship”. You have just expanded the play and your child might imitate your behavior. You didn’t give an instruction that they could potentially protest. You just expanded on their play and allowed an opportunity for your child to imitate you!

Step 3: Be Patient

Remember that kids like playing the same thing over and over and over again. Remind yourself that they are practicing their skills and learning, regardless of the fact that you have now played the same pirate game more times than you can count.

Step 4: Be Flexible

Newsflash: You have significantly more life experience than your preschooler. Even without experience with play, I feel confident you can build a better castle out of blocks than a 3-year-old. All the competitive parents out there just a did a silent “Oh yea I can” cheer. Do not let your experience or perfectionism get in the way of play.  If your child makes a giant mound of blocks that look like nothing more than a mess but they call it a castle, you better believe it’s the nicest castle you have ever seen! If your four-year-old colors a turtle pink instead of green, tame your inner perfectionist and take a cue from the movie Frozen: “Let it go!” Practice your flexibility within play and you will help foster creativity and enjoyment during play.

Step 5: Tame the Mini Boss!

You’ve been following your child’s lead, narrating their play, minimizing questions and demands, and practicing your own patience and flexibility. Your child has been directing your play and bossing you around for a couple of months. You are feeling more and more confident with play and maybe even starting to enjoy it! It’s time to start incorporating your ideas and your thoughts into play. By practicing negotiation and cooperation skills with you, they will be better prepared for utilizing those same skills with peers.

I hope this resonated with at least one parent out there, and if you made it all the way to the end of this post, I’m sending you a virtual pat on the back. I wholeheartedly believe that the old saying of “quality over quantity” is so true in this situation. Engaging in activities that you and your child can enjoy together, even for 10-20 minutes per day, is one of the best ways to foster a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. Happy tea parties and pirate adventures!

Janine Howe is Mommy to two girls, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and the Founder and Executive Director at Foundation Lane. Her passion for the field of Behavior Analysis and her love for children led her to make Behavioral Therapy a life-long career. Also be sure to follow Foundation Lane, LLC on Facebook for great resources and shares!

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