Play is not just “Child’s Play”
Have you ever been told your child was unsociable? How did you feel when you heard that? Did you also think the same thing and have been googling to see if your child was autistic? I certainly have been told numerous times by people including relatives that thought “there was something wrong” with #JasperBean or that he was “suffering from extreme shyness”. Playing with other children did not rank high on his lists of interests at all. Therefore, I should take him on more play dates to interact with his peers? Or *GASP*, have another baby so that he has someone to “play with”! Is his anti-social behaviour due to me not giving him a brother or sister? Hence he doesn’t know how to behave when there are other children around?
#JasperBean is 2-years-old and has many “friends” that are similar in age with him. We try to meet up on a regular basis to “socialise”. I’ve observed their play times and it’s clear that the children in his age group are quite happy to play alongside one another. Even when they are playing with the same toy, for example, building blocks, I notice they sometimes make a few attempts to actually play together. The majority of the time, there is little or no communication or interaction.
What are the benefits of Parallel Play?
- Language development
- Has your little one ever surprised you with a word or action that you have never seen or heard? Yep, they may have picked this up during parallel play when you thought they were just in their own little world minding their own business.
- Gross and fine motor skill development
- A simple action may actually require a complicated thought process.
- A simple action to you can be challenging for little ones that are still fine tuning their fine motor skills.
- Growing their personality and expressing their feelings
- Play doesn’t only teach a child how an item works or move, it also allows them to express their feelings and for you to see their personality shaping.
- When a child plays alone, they also don’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations and have the freedom to make up their own rules.
- Learning about social interactions and boundaries
- Parallel play may look like a child is playing alone and it may seem like they are very self centred. However they are observing others. It is this that preps and gives them a glimpse of what social interaction is and preparing them for group play. Regardless of the interaction being positive or negative, there is still something the child can learn.
- Learning to share
- Has your child ever snatched a toy from another child or thrown a hissy fit because they wanted what someone else had? This is all part of growing up, the child is learning about independence and assertiveness. Teaching and learning about the concept of “mine” is a vital step in understanding boundaries. Practice sharing at home so they can understand what trust is when playing with one another.
I am learning as I play. I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. Today I am a child and my work is play. Anita Wadley, 1974.
Our babies are watching us ALL the time, even when we don’t think they are! It’s amazing how their brains are soaking up everything in their environment, and parallel play demonstrates this perfectly. Just when you thought they were merely playing in their own little worlds, in actual fact they are simultaneously observing and listening as well. So mummies and daddies, aunties and uncles, grandpa’s and grandma’s, families and friends you better be careful and set good examples in what you say or do when you’re around little ones! No pressure! However, don’t feel guilty if you haven’t allocated specific time to spend with your child to play. Engage with them regularly in daily activities such as shopping, gardening, cleaning, chatting with others etc is a wonderful experience for them. Just never tell them to go away.
#JasperBean is very privileged to be growing up in a highly technological environment. He receives information from multifaceted channels whether I like it or not. As parents, we can get very busy and it’s easy to just give a child an iPad/iPhone to occupy their time. I’m not here to judge. But personally, I feel that it is very important especially in the first few years of life to limit this as much as possible. Encourage them to play because this is very important for their language and social development. Whether this is playing by themselves, with us, with or next to their peers, it doesn’t matter. Playing allows the child to learn at their own pace whilst having fun.
Remember our younger days when we didn’t have much technology? We survived it! We had fun and we learnt from one another, from experience. That is why to a certain extent, I will let #JasperBean go off and look and touch at almost anything and everything, even if he ends up with scratches and bruises (daily!) and covers himself in Sudocrem (fact!) or tries to gel his hair with food (every meal), its ok!
So to everyone who has wondered whether they are living with a hermit, don’t worry. Go play and have fun! It’s ok for children to frequently engage in solitary play but if they always only play by themselves, then I would not hesitate to seek out expert opinion such as from their paediatrician or teacher etc.
Until next time…
Please note: I have an interest and previous professional background in Psychology and Sociology. Some readers may find this information and topic informative and interesting and I will try to include scientific research articles wherever possible. However some of the points I make represent my own views and understanding.
Anderson-McNamee, J. K., & Bailey, S. J. (2010). The importance in Early Childhood Development.
Santrock, J. (1999). Life-Span Dveelopment. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc.
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