There is no doubt that play is an important, nay essential, part of a child’s development. Apart from it being just fun children learn so much about their world, become more self confident, test the limits of their skills and learn by their mistakes, or find an outlet for their emotions.
Children have few legitimate opportunities to voice their feelings or to learn how to express their feelings. Playing with a scary monster or coping with a tiresome doll gives them a chance to express feelings in a safe non judgemental world of their own making. Playtime, especially non directed free play time is so precious – and with the best of intention – so easy to ruin. Adults can unintentionally undermine the value of play by interfering or imposing their own standards or ideas.
Imagine that you are a child in each of these 4 instances and then think how you would react to similar scenario in your adult world.
Absent minded tidying up
You are playing with your child and you have stopped yourself checking your phone, making “to do lists”, looking at a magazine or doing any other multi tasking. You are really playing but at the same time putting away unused toys, tidying up the jigsaws, organising the small toys into some sort of order.
As an adult if you were having a meal out and the waitress kept removing the bread, straightening your cutlery, removing unwanted glasses or brushing the crumbs off the table how would you feel?
Organising Play Intrusively
Your children are playing by themselves and you find you have a perfect time slot to enjoy some “Quality-Time-Playing” with them. You clap your hands and say “Right, lets play …(what ever it is that they enjoyed last time).
As an adult how do you feel when someone demands, and expects, you stop what you are doing and do what they ask right now, no matter what you are doing?
Can’t Resist The Urge To Teach
You and/or your child are playing with toy cars and you keep saying helpful things like “What kind of car is that one?” “What do cars need to run their engines?” “What noise does a fire engine make?” Or you are reading a book/ watching TV together and you ask similar questions frequently, very frequently.
As an adult, imagine the same thing happening to you whilst you are enjoying a film or visiting an art gallery or listening to music. I bet you would just like to enjoy the experience and absorb what is going on.
Imposing Your Values
You notice that your child is playing with farm animals in a petrol station instead of the farm, or putting the My Little Ponies in the same coral as the dinosaurs, or any other wonderful creative original combinations. You correct them and give them the right toys, or say that the cow shouldn’t go in through the window but through the door.
As an adult imagine how stifling it would be to have someone constantly stop or change your writing, your projects and put limits on your creativity or imagination?
It is so easy to influence our child’s playtime through our very natural desire to help our children succeed in a competitive world, or to assuage our guilt because we feel we should spend more quality time with the child. With the best of intentions we could be having the opposite effect and be limiting their creative and cognitive development.
David Elkind,Ph.D., one of today’s leading psychologists, believes that “silencing children’s play is as harmful to healthy development (if not more so) as hurrying them to grow up too fast too soon”.
So let kids be kids and enjoy their wonderful worlds created in their imagination – it is precious, so precious.