Every parent knows it’s important to spend time with their kids. But between work, cooking, feeding, cleaning, homework and everything else, sometimes it is hard to set aside time just for play.
Registered social worker Sabrina LaTona says one-on-one playtime between caregivers and children is very important. Just as important as family dinner time and completing daily tasks like homework.
LaTona has a private practice in the Greater-Toronto-Area assisting families and children. She uses play therapy techniques to help treat her clients who have experienced loss, abuse or may be dealing with anxiety or behavioural challenges. Play therapy is a method to help children communicate and express themselves where they don’t always have the words to do so. She uses play based activities like building blocks, board games, drawing or role play to help kids open up and express how they are interpreting the world around them.
She says play based activities are an important tool in her practice but also encourages parents to use play to form a bond, encourage communication, and help reach developmental milestones with their children.
"Children use play to communicate, problem solve and experience their world," says LaTona. "Play is a way for children to learn, it's not just simply play. It allows them to be creative, build on their imagination, build on their development and the relationship with their parents,” says LaTona.
LaTona says ‘play time’ does not need to be structured or even planned to be beneficial to a child. Child led play is just as important ."It doesn't necessarily have to be purposeful or educational and children can still benefit from it. It helps them work through their day, what they've learned and it's helpful both socially and emotionally for your child as well."
But with everything else going on in the world, LaTona says there can be a lot of guilt surrounding the time spent with your kids. How do you know if you are giving your child enough of your attention or enough of that unstructured time? She says to look for clues in your child’s behaviour because every child is different.
“If things are going on for your child, situations within the home or at school where they need more attention then that’s a good time to structure in or set up more play time with your child, more one-to-one time,” says LaTona.
She says what’s important to remember is that when it’s time to get on the ground and play with your child that you give them your undivided attention in that moment. No matter how many times you’ve built the tower or made a craft, now is not the time to check your work email or go on social media.
“We've all experienced what it can be like to try and communicate or interact with someone when they're on a device, it happens quite often and I often support and assist families in setting boundaries around technology,” says LaTona. "Giving your child your full undivided attention can help them not seek it out in more ways that are not helpful for your relationship. It's also modeling and demonstrating to your child what you would like in setting those examples."
Parents can find recommendations on how much time to dedicate to their child daily for play. But LaTona says parents should not feel guilty about the amount of time they are dedicating. Ultimately the lesson for parents is that your child is communicating through play, it's purposeful, even if it looks like just play. You can use that to develop a relationship with your child and help mould them into a confident person.
“You want those opportunities that create moments to engage and interact, be attuned with your child. Children are much happier and have a higher sense of self-esteem and self-image. In the early years, a child's sense of self is based on interactions with their caregivers so it really helps to deepen that relationship between parent and child.”
For more information on play therapy and how it is used in a professional/clinical setting to benefit children visit Canadian Association for Child and Play Therapy.
Other helpful resources for parents on the topic of attention play and development:
Caring for Kids - Information for parents from Canada’s Paediatricians
National Association for the Education of Young Children – Building Social and Emotional Skills at Home.
Sabrina has been a practicing clinician for more than a decade having a masters in Social Work. With strong foundations in clinical treatments, she is a clinical lead of the tool Vidaview Life Storyboard TM offering expert training and supervision for professionals. She participates on various committees and global projects sharing her expertise in using the tool in both clinical interventions and research.
Sabrina has worked extensively in multidisciplinary settings such as Community Health, Adult Mental Health, Child Welfare and Children’s Mental Health. She engages in extensive training in the areas of child trauma assessment and intervention, in play therapy along with Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. In her private practice in North York, Sabrina works with individuals, children and families in the Greater Toronto Area to tell their story by applying a trauma, neuroscience, and attachment lens. Sabrina also enjoys offering consultation, publishing blog posts and offers presentations.
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