5 Ways To Help Your Child Develop Play Skills

Have you ever wondered why your kiddo is having a hard time playing with others? By the end of this blog you will learn how to set them up for success, build a skill called "ideation" and support the development of your child's play skills.

1. Set Them Up For Success

Children who have difficulty maintaining engagement during play benefit from a "less is more" approach. Too many toys or distractions can result in fragmentation, which looks like your child jumping from one toy to another or pulling everything out without purpose.


Take a look around their play room. Are there many things on the walls? Are many toys out and accessible? Is it near a space within the house where there are many distractions? If so, minimize these things! Keep things organized up high in bins, put toys away in the closet, and keep their space clear. This will improve their attention to you and what's in front of them.


Next, set something out that they may enjoy or let them choose something to play with. For example, maybe your child loves to play with balls. Take out two balls -max, and hang a target (or you be the target *wink*) for them to focus on. Take turns for reciprocal play. Interaction is the most important thing to go for.


2. Know your child's level of play. There are 3 types of play!

In Jake Greenspan's book, The Floortime Manual, he highlights three types of play. Knowing which developmental phase of play your child is in can be a game changer in supporting your child. What's most important is that you recognize where your child is, developmentally, in order to build a foundation of interaction and communication. Over-challenging your child to play with toys beyond their developmental level can lead to more struggles and fleeting attention.


In the book, Greenspan highlights sensory based play, which is play that satisfies your child's sensory needs. It can look like spinning your kiddo if they love vestibular input or singing to them while on your lap if they love auditory input. Stay within this phase of play until your child can master engagement.


The second type of play is object based play. This is a child's ability to maintain interaction with objects like blocks, balls, and bubbles. They may not need as much sensory input to focus anymore and will, instead, attempt to find ways to play with objects. Within this stage, it's important to encourage and model new ideas with objects. Use your “I wonder” statements to encourage them to think about different ways to pop bubbles or think of different ways to play with blocks.


The third type of play is symbolic play. You will see your child’s imagination come out and they are able to do some pretend play. They may enjoy action figures, but may struggle to think of new ideas for what to do with that action figure, which brings us to our next pointer to develop play!


3. Use "I wonder" Statements

Within play, you want your child to be the active thinker. Children who have difficulty in play often have difficulty thinking of new ideas, which is called ideation. The best thing you can do is refrain from telling them what to do. This means reframing your statements to go from, "Throw the ball in the basket!" to instead saying, "I wonder what else we can use as a basket!" You could also say, "I wonder what else you can do with that ball?" "I wonder" statements are magical in that they naturally encourage your child to think of a new idea without the pressure of asking them to think of a new idea.


4. Playing Dumb Is Fun!

Join your child in play. If their action figure is in need of a sidekick, pretend as if you don't know how to be one! Allow the opportunity for them to tell you how to be their sidekick to encourage language development, assertiveness, and thinking of new ideas on their own. You can also ask questions like "What do I do?" or "Where do I go?" This provides more opportunities for them to flex their ideation muscles.


5. Be Present

Put your phone away, turn the TV off, and be present. Quality over quantity should be the motto when spending time with kids. Give them your attention and be their model of play. Listen, encourage and model appropriate social skills. Children develop relationship skills and strengthen interaction with their parents first, which teaches them how to do so with others. Show them respect and love through play and it will go a long way!


There may be other reasons why your child is having difficulty with play. For more information, tips and insights contact us for a free consultation. We offer parent consultations no matter where you are, so that you can feel confident in supporting your child.


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