Children follow a similar path of developmental milestones; just like adults have different jobs, kids need different kinds of play. What does yours need?
Being sensitive to children’s needs means recognizing some kids need vigorous outside play, some miss the social aspect of daycare or preschool and would like a friend to play with, and some need quiet, alone time. In the midst of all the great events and presents of the season, if kids seem unsettled, or cranky, it could be we are not recognizing how they need to play.
Figuring out what kind of play meets the needs of the child is tricky. You might get some clues from what you are feeling. Are you craving some alone time? Are you desperate to talk to somebody, anybody? Kids do not have the same personalities as parents and caregivers but asking yourself these questions and listening to the answers may trigger some hints about solutions.
You may have already suggested about ten things to your child and have had lukewarm or negative responses but something will click. Following, are a few suggestions you might not have tried.
Book and Lap: A few minutes snuggled on a lap sharing a book or story is often welcome. There’s been so much going on and a lap is a safe, secure space. It’s a positive way to get a few minutes of attention and connection.
Blanket Fort: Crawling under a table or behind a sofa could be an indication a child wants some distance but still be included in the action. A quick fort is a sheet, blanket, or really big tablecloth spread over a table. Kids can crawl under for some world-within-a-world time.
Puzzle It Out: Kids may be feeling insecure and uncertain about the changes in the routine. A puzzle or train set up in the middle of the kitchen or living room gives the child something to do while being close to the adults. There’s a chance the adults will pop-in every now and then to put in a piece of the puzzle or have a turn. Blocks or construction toys are other possibilities. The very same train in a child’s room is not the same toy spread out in the kitchen. Kids need different kinds of play but that could be the same play just in another place.
Playdate: Any comments from your child about friends from daycare, preschool, or play programs? You might suggest inviting a friend over to play or watch your child’s reaction. If your little one lights up like a Christmas tree, that’s a good indication of a need to connect with a friend. On the other hand, if your child is reluctant or unenthusiastic, that might not be the best choice either.
Water in the Sink or Tub: Warm water play can meet many different needs. It seems to wash away tension and stress and soothe worries. For minds spinning with curiosity and questions, it invites exploration and discovery. Run some water in the sink or tub, toss in some small containers and spoons, and let kids play. Any new toys that could use a wash and rinse? One thing about water play, clean up doesn’t mean more of a mess. Usually…
Kids bouncing off the walls doesn’t necessarily mean they need vigorous, loud play-time, preferably outside. That might just be the ticket to restore some sanity in the day, for the adults if not for the kids. Part of the problem is kids can’t tell us in words what they need, only in behavior. Whatever it is, play will be part of the answer. Kids need different kinds of play. How do you figure out what kind your child needs?