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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Connecting with Your Child

In today’s world of hectic schedules and electronic entertainment, it can be hard to find time and ways to connect with your child. I recommend carving play time into the schedule to improve your relationship with your child. Here are some tips for creating a special play time that will encourage an emotional bond:
1.     Turn off technology:  Make the play time an electronics-free zone. For 15 minutes, turn off your phone and give all your attention to your child. Make sure the child’s electronics are off too (no TV in the background!) and really focus in on the moment.

2.     Allow your child to lead the play: Kids are used to being told what to do. For this play time, allow the child to lead and make decisions that you, the parent, follow. This should be within necessary limits, such as maintaining safety and using one room of the house. Besides these rules, however, the child should have control over what happens in the play.

3.     Leave your “limitations” at the door: It is not uncommon for parents to tell me in my practice that they “don’t know how to play” and that this idea intimidates them. Some hesitation is understandable; it may have been a long time since you played! Luckily, your child knows how and will teach you if you let him or her. Try starting by reflecting what your child is doing or what a character is feeling. For example, “You’re working to build a big tower,” or, “The boy feels sad to say goodbye.” Focus on the child’s experience rather than your own hesitation and you’ll be much more able to be present for your child and understand the communication.

4.     Ask questions: In order to let the child lead, you may want to ask them in a soft voice how to respond. For instance, if the child is playing school and is the teacher, you might whisper, “What do I say next?” or “What kind of student should I be?” This gives the child the opportunity to be in charge and allows you to better understand the directives he or she is giving you.
Employing new guidelines for play can feel uncomfortable at first. However, if you are able to tune into your child’s play, you may find a whole new way of connecting and relating that far outweighs any initial discomfort.

Emily Herber is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services.
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