July 12, 2016

30 minute play sessions are one of the most powerful ways to improve the parent child relationship.  And doing so just 30 minutes  once per week is enough to see dramatic results.  You can learn how to transform your relationship with your child into supercharged, therapeutic level play by taking some guidance from play therapy practices.

But I already play with my child?

Yes, you probably do. But during that time, are you teaching them a new skill? Are you participating in a structured activity like T-ball practice?  While neither of those things are overly detrimental to your child, they do not qualify as unstructured one on one time.   Not to say that they are bad…just to say that there needs to be some balance. Structured play sessions can bring out a child’s inner anxiety over performance or they can highlight low self esteem issues.   Unstructured play sessions provide the balance that will focus on connecting with your child regardless of their performance at any given task.


The 30 Minute Play Session 

Unstructured: means the CHILD makes the plan, not you. You just sit back and follow their lead. If they say that an alligator is a crocodile, so be it. Even better, if they say that an alligator is a dinosaur, that’s okay too. Just see where it takes you and go with the flow. And try not to ask questions.

One on One: Quite simply, it is just you and your child. That means that no siblings are present. Neither is the other parent. Most importantly, neither is your phone. Find a place that you will be not be interrupted. For some people, that might be a bedroom. For others, it might be a garage or a spare room.

Play: This does not mean that you have to be on the floor. You don’t even have to be active, really. Consider play as a synonym for ATTENTION. Provide 30 minutes of attention by noticing what your child is doing and saying something about it. In play therapy this is called “tracking.” It sounds like this: “You are rolling that all over the floor.” This allows the child to continue to direct the activity and gives them a chance to give you more information about what they are thinking. It’s important here to try not to ask questions. That takes away from the play and focuses on your need for information.  So asking “What are you doing?” would not be as good as saying,  “I’m not sure what you are doing right now.” See the difference. One expects an answer. The other just shows interest.

30 minutes: That’s ideally in a row at the same time and day each week. Schedule it like a meeting. Know that you will not be available for other things. Why 30 minutes once per week? This is the recommendation from play therapy leaders who designed a parent training model called Child Parent Relationship Training. They have conducted thousands of parent training groups and found this is an achievable length of time that also gets results.

Why is this type of play so powerful?

Because the thing that I hear most often from children is that they wish their parents would spend more time with them. They want your attention. And when they get it routinely in a way that allows them to just be themselves without any expectations, they feel better about who they are. And then something magical happens…they behave better.

It’s true, children who feel good about themselves have less negative attention seeking behaviors. And parents get a benefit too. You get to enjoy your children in a whole new way. You usually learn something new about them. And best of all. It’s free!

About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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