Playtime: Why Parents Should Help
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Play is how children learn. Play is how they make sense of the world, how they challenge their skills and measure themselves against others. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) labels playtime essential to a child’s health and development.
Albert Einstein famously quipped that play was the highest form of research.
This may be why parents — and others who love kids — are always interested in how and if they should participate in their children’s fun.
Jeffrey Brosco, M.D., Ph.D., is a pediatrician at the University of Miami Health System specializing in developmental and behavioral disorders. He’s a strong advocate of allowing children free rein to exercise their imagination and muscles.
He’s also a proponent of parents joining in, but with certain caveats.
“Play is really important,” Dr. Brosco says.
“First and foremost, it’s a way to build a positive, strong bond with the children. The goal is to spend quality time and have fun.”
The fun part is key because it allows parents to fulfill a role aside from homework enforcer and rules-maker.
“Parents don’t need to only spend time on doing homework,” he adds. “Instead, make time to play.”
Parents can start by understanding that there are different kinds of play, and each serves a purpose that is not always immediately apparent. However, awareness of the benefits can help parents ensure that their kids “mix it up,” as recommended by the AAP.
In “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children,” the medical organization identifies four broad categories of play.
- toys and object play
- physical play
- outdoor play
- pretend play
The AAP paper details how such activities as board games, climbing trees, and pretend play encourage socialization and enhance brain structure and function.
Here are other suggestions from Dr. Brosco on how to best play with your child:
Make time to enjoy playtime with your kids.
“Reframe the idea of I don’t have time to This is an investment in my child’s well-being,” Dr. Brosco says. Building a positive relationship makes chores and following rules much easier.
Put away the smartphone, the tablet, and the TV.
“There’s nothing good about screens. It’s one activity that should definitely be done in moderation.”
Give yourself a break.
Let things go. The laundry can wait, and so can the house cleaning. Dr. Brosco worries that today’s harried parents are spending too much time getting things done instead of spending time hanging out with the kids.
Don’t overschedule planned activities.
Children need to get plenty of unstructured play. This freedom allows them to explore and discover, use their imagination, and exercise their problem-solving muscle. Free play with peers also helps develop empathy and social skills.
Follow the age guidelines on toys for playtime.
These recommendations ensure children’s safety. For example, a toy with small parts can be a choking risk for kids under three years old. This holds even for a child who may seem more mature or advanced when compared with other kids the same age.
Let the child take the lead when a parent or another adult plays along.
Let her make the rules. Allow him his fantasy role. In other words, stay out of their way.
Don’t allow the child to win all the time.
Don’t make it a point to beat him at Go Fish! every time either. “As a parent, you have to find the right balance,” Dr. Brosco explains. “It’s important for them to learn to lose. The better you get at dealing with that, the more resilient a child becomes.”
Encourage your child to step out of his comfort zone.
Allow her to take certain risks – sliding down the taller slide, attempting a longer throw, trying a different game. Striving and eventually succeeding helps build confidence.
Remember that playtime isn’t another form of homework.
“Parents don’t need to be thinking of it as an opportunity for a school lesson,” Dr. Brosco says. “You don’t need to be instructing. Just have fun.”
Ana Veciana-Suarez, Guest Columnist
Ana is a regular contributor to the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author who has worked at The Miami Herald, The Miami News, and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at anavecianasuarez.com or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.