For many parents, June through December can be a whirlwind, full of constant transition. While school responsibilities, extra-curricular activities, and holiday celebrations can be exciting and enjoyable, getting through these months can also be a stressful time and over-scheduled time for both parents and children. The gray skies, early darkness, and cold weather of the winter months in Michigan can be difficult to see through. These months can also offer a time to reconnect with oneself and one’s children before the transition to the spring and summer months begin. The power of play will is an excellent strategy to enhance family connection, promote mental health, and practice self-care.
From infancy to adulthood, the act of play has a tremendous role in shaping our cognitive, social, and emotional development. Boredom is a common trigger for both parents and children. You may notice your child whining more often, resisting household rules and expectations, withdrawing, or acting out. Children do not often directly say, “I’m having a hard day”, “I miss you”, or “I’m lonely.” They may ask, “Can you play with me?” At other times, their behavior may become so disruptive that parents have no choice but to stop everything and pay attention. No matter your child’s age, engaging with your child in unstructured, playful, and creative activities has the potential to build attachment and resilience that transcend whatever age and stage your family is in right now. Below are some suggestions for play activities for children of a variety of ages. Notice none of these activities involve technology, leaving your house, or a tremendous amount of time.
Get on the floor! This may feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or as though you are ‘wasting time’ for some parents. That’s OK! Do it anyway. Your child will enjoy you interacting with them at their level. Some interactive ideas for this age include:
- Crawl on the floor together
- Bounce or roll your child on an exercise ball
- Look at each other and smile
- Hold your child in your lap and read a colorful book together
- Take his/her hand and point to the various objects/colors in a book and say them aloud, “This is a big red ball!”
- Identify parts of his/her face and yours, move his/her hand in yours as you say or sing “This is your nose, this is my nose,” etc.
- Toddlers-Early Childhood
Children at this age need to express their internal feelings and experiences. They often look to experience the world through their senses. Kids need a space to be messy! Doing so facilitates self-expression, and a safe method to practice limits and develop self-control. Pinterest offers many boards on the topic of sensory play, including some great ones with water and fingerprint that can be appropriate for toddlers [in Pinterest, search “sensory play toddlers” and you can then select from categories in the top band to find water, fingerpaint, shaving cream or any other segment of the topic].
Pretend play also emerges throughout these stages of development. Throw any self-conscious tendencies you have aside for 30 minutes, and participate in dress up and whatever pretend play your child’s imagination can conjure up, allowing them to take the lead. Label feelings throughout the play, and put words to what your child is doing. Engaging in this activity with your child will do more for the both of you than any half-hour TV show. You will get a lens into your child’s inner world. If your child feels seen, heard, and attended to throughout your play, s/he will be easier to parent in both the short and long-term.
Some of the simplest but favorite toddler oriented activities we can share include:
- Footprint painting
- Shape sorting
- Water play with plastic bowls and cups
- Bath play, either at bath-time or just for fun
- Baking together – toddlers love to mix, kneed, roll and decorate
- Cooking together – rather than beg for parents’ attention during cooking time, toddlers can be engaged in age appropriate kitchen activities such as mixing, pouring, carrying, even cutting with a dull knife!
Continuing to facilitate your child’s emerging interests and sense of self is a key developmental task of this stage. Creativity has the potential to serve as a powerful coping skill and positive outlet for self-expression. While it may seem difficult to reach the carefree child withing your tween, it can be done! Once again, Pinterest may offer some excellent inspiration [search in Pinterest for “indoor activities for tween boys and parents”.] Some of our ideas for non-digital interactive activities with your tween include:
- Go together to shop for foods for a family meal
- Take an hour or two on a weekend to visit a farmer’s market
- Go to a coffee shop together and try a new seasonal beverage
- Sign up for a painting class together at a local paint and party establishment
- Bake a cake or brownies together
- Sign up to volunteer for an hour or two together at a local food pantry
- Pick a book to read or listen to and then discuss together
- Teach him/her to do a craft/sport/activity that you know how to do: knitting, tinkering with electronics or mechanical things, crocheting, woodworking, skiing, flower arranging, sudoku
- Go roller skating together
- Go to a local museum together
Often parents don’t realize how much they themselves will gain from this interactive time with their child/ren. It is really some of the most valuable parenting one can give a child – and some of the most precious time parents remember with their children.
Written by Jessica Hendon, L.M.S.W.