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My child – how to play and communicate with him – 10 secret tips

8 May 2020

My child – how to play and communicate with him – 10 secret tips with Stefka Tsvetanova / psychologist and trainer at the Karin Dom Foundation and Nikoleta Yoncheva / speech therapist and trainer at the Karin Dom Foundation.

We chose this topic because we believe that play is the most important part of a child’s development in the extremely sensitive period of 1-4 years. We are aware that a lot has been spoken and written on the topic, but we would like to share with you 10 little secrets from our personal and professional experience. Dear parents, it is important to be an active participant in your child’s play and communication.

It would be difficult to talk about play if we have many different ideas about it. Here’s what we mean by play in our article. Play is the key to learning. Children seem to be born with an instinct to play, but this instinct, like any other, must be stimulated, developed and enriched. Unfortunately, statistically speaking, the more years pass, the less time children receive in the form of play at the expense of teaching. Each of us, if we go back to our childhood, will remember how much time we spent playing in the street such as “Dodgeball”, “Drunk carrot”, “Guards and Apaches”, “Hide and Seek” and others, which in themselves taught us rules, sharing, cooperation, attention, creativity, social skills, problem solving and more. What do you think? Isn’t this learning?

Most parents probably ask themselves questions like, “Why is my child doing this?”, “When will he start noticing other children?”, “Why does she like this game?” The answer to these questions can be found in the stages of play that the child goes through:

  • sharing attention and emotions are specific for children up to about 6 months of age;
  • the independent game with toys emerges from 6 months to 1 year;
  • shared play with an adult follows – this play develops and enriches over time;
  • parallel play appears around 2.5 – 3 years – children play in a shared space, but each plays independently;
  • the next stage is the joint play, the games with alternation and rules, which are enriched up to school age and afterwords.

The way children want to play is often not the way parents want to play. Kids love to do the same thing over and over again. This is how they learn, this is how they practice a skill until they understand and master it. But parents understandably do not want to do it, at least not with the specific skill that the child is preoccupied with. We have heard many stories about child-parent play and often parents say that they like to play with their children, but after 100 repetitions of the game their attitude changes and they either want to give up or play reluctantly, which children quickly sense.

That’s why we need secret tips to understand and overcome many of our challenges:

Safety – When talking about the safety of the environment, it is desirable that the place where the child plays is fit for his age and abilities. We always discuss with parents whether they have control over the environment at home and whether they feel that their children are safe. They need to consider furniture at suitable height, secured sharp edges, windows, mirrors and more. Because especially at an early age children love to move, their activity is leading their development and learning. It is desirable to have a space with enough daylight, the toys have to be arranged into separate areas, in different containers and shelves, located at the level of the child and divided by type. Child needs to have his own place where he feels calm and secure. This should be his corner. Let the places you do NOT want the child to visit be locked, or if this is not possible, then just put a STOP sign. It is important for the child to have access to his toys, but the parent must consider which toys he can play with at the moment. Supportive is this environment in which you and the child feel calm and comfortable. The environment is supportive for both the child and other family members. It is also important for the parent to be able to let the child play on their own without worrying about any danger. That is why the arrangement of the home, the play area and the accessible areas are of key importance to the life of the families.

The type of toys – Let’s think about how the child’s world develops. Vision is gradually improving. The sense of light and color is improving. The baby’s gaze moves from one object to another without head turning. The coordination between his eyes and his hands is not precise, but he is already trying to catch objects he sees. Gradually his vision improves, the objects he sees are no longer flat, but three-dimensional and the space he sees begins to expand: starting from what is before his eyes, then in the cot, in the room, in the apartment, around the block. The world that the child learns about, expands and the child’s experience is enriched. Inversely proportional to the space, the type of toys changes. If for the little baby and child, we choose larger toys, from one or two larger parts, then with age the children’s play and toys become more complex and with more and more parts. Toys themselves are an important tool of play, but without us, the adults they have no such value.

Here is the secret when choosing toys -we choose the type of toy depending on whether the child will play alone or will play with an older child or adult. When the child is playing alone, it is important to choose:

  • toys with fewer and larger parts;
  • toys that need no explanation and suggest the way to play with. These toys are suitable due to the fact that the child will play independently with them, and then they will be easily put away.

When the child has a play partner, the following are suitable:

  • toys that help the child learn rules;
  • toys that have a condition, that require more thought, concentration and shared attention.

Each time, think about what these toys will bring to your child. Change the toys often to keep the child interested, but let them not be too many so that he can get to know them and pick them up afterwards :).

Leave some special toys to play with the child, with which he/she will be able to learn a lot about play and interaction.

Follow your child – The child experiments, tries and thus learns. Give him freedom, let him choose his toys – a controlled choice and your efforts will bring success. Try to get involved in the child’s play by showing your interest, imitating your child in the beginning and following his rules IN THE BEGINNING to be part of his world. Gradually show him variations of the game, but don’t focus. Even the most expensive toy cannot be compared to everyday objects, which through their imagination our children turn into strange characters and tools. We as parents can give direction and let our child’s imagination and potential run wild. Play should ALWAYS be fun, not obligatory. We know that parents often want to teach children complex concepts such as colors, numbers, shapes, but children are probably still interested in the movement of objects, cause and effect games like button toys, so we start with their interests and gradually teach them other things which, of course, are also important.

A variety of emotional reactions – emotion can make the most uninteresting object / toy into the most interesting thing in the whole world. In addition to showing our emotions, we need to talk about them. The young child knows basically two emotional states – joy / happiness and sadness. Talk to your child whenever he experiences these emotions. Help him recognize and describe them to build his emotional intelligence, stand up for himself, and understand that there is nothing wrong with showing how you feel or changing your desires during the game. Children need to understand that not everything happens at all costs. Always talk with a lot of emotion and a smile and you can’t help but win them over.

How to talk to your child – We usually recommend the +1 rule. Always speak in more words than your child uses. If he still doesn’t speak, and you want him to understand you and repeat, use + 1 word. If he already says a new word, you use +2 new words.

Creating challenges / obstacles of two types – physical and verbal. To stimulate your children’s communication, let their favorite things be in a place not easily accessible to them. Climb them on a slightly higher shelf, put them in boxes with lids, in envelopes with a zipper. Let the child seek our help and also develop their skills. Offer fewer toys to keep your child interested. Other tips in this direction:

Keep the toys with you and pass them one by one to allow for more interaction, to teach the child to wait and watch.

– Support language and speech development by gradually expanding your child’s vocabulary as in the example above: car – one car – give one car – give one red car.

Turn taking – What is secret and special about this skill? Thanks to the games that require turn taking, children learn patience, concentration and attention. They share their toy, space and time with someone else. This skill will be useful to them for the rest of their lives in different situations and it is built in early childhood.

Types of play – there are different types of games, but we would like to focus on three that are fundamental in early childhood, namely – motor games, sensory games and games with a social element / role play games. When we talk about the age of 1-4 years, the development of the child is based mainly on his physical development. During this period, the most dynamic changes occur in this area. From a helpless little baby, the child becomes an independent individual who walks, runs, jumps, climbs up and down stairs. These are extremely important skills that lead further to the whole cognitive process. If we lag behind in any of these skills, then inevitably learning skills will lag behind.

  • Motor games teach the child structure, consistency and purposefulness. Running in the yard or on the playground is not enough by itself, because in purposeful motor games children can learn and practice their endurance, agility, muscle strength, discipline, competitiveness, order. So let your imagination run wild and create different motor games with rules to be followed.
  • Sensory games – from birth the little baby turns in a direction from which he hears a loud noise or a familiar voice, dets impressed by glowing, rotating toys, likes to be massaged, bathed, dressed and undressed. With age, this need changes, but does not disappear. To satisfy this sensory demand in early childhood, offer children different fabrics and textures. You can offer games that make sounds, outdoor games with soil, sand, water, mud and more.
  • Role play games – these are games in which children enter roles, play their emotional states, experiences and feelings. Thanks to two dolls, the child can recreate amazing stories that he would not otherwise be able to tell you. These games change with time and age into social games, with rules and real participants that we as adults continue to play.

Whatever you do, remember that the game should be fun, both participants should enjoy both the toys and the interaction. There is nothing wrong with one of the players expressing dissatisfaction, rebelling, giving up, this makes the game a powerful tool for social learning and self-expression.

Photo credit: Karin Dom

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