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.

So does my child need more “formal” and professional playgroups like nursery? Well, #JasperBean started nursery when he was 15 months old for 2 full days a week. It turns out, the majority of the time, he was more interested in doing and playing with “what he wanted”. When the group would gather for singalong’s or painting, he was quite happy playing or reading in a corner by himself. He seemed to show a lack of interest in the other children. He would occasionally wave his hand when he heard a tune, but that was the extent of his participation. Was I worried? To be honest, I would be if I didn’t understand or study the mechanics behind human development. The actions demonstrated by #JasperBean is known as “Parallel Play”. I want to share this as a lot of mummies I have come across are worried that they are not doing the “right thing” and are bringing up withdrawn, insecure and unsociable hermits.

Parallel Play

Parallel Play is a professional term in Child Development where a baby/toddler plays alongside his peers rather than with them. This is usually observed in children aged 2-3.5 years old and is perfectly normal. It is an important phase in a child’s development where they observe the world around them and this includes watching what their peers do. Have you noticed how your toddler watches you when you’re cooking, sweeping, or doing a repetitive activity? They will often copy you and repeat these actions during play. Similarly, when they are playing next to someone their own size, they are secretly taking mental notes of one another. Over time, he/she will start to imitate what they see. As the child gets older, they will engage in less parallel play but it’s not uncommon for this to continue in older preschoolers as well.
So #JasperBean was not engaging in group play because he’s still in “this” stage of development. Not because he has a problematic character/personality trait or social skills deficit. Besides, engaging in parallel play doesn’t mean he’s withdrawn or anti-social. There are actually many benefits to it.

What are the benefits of Parallel Play?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
#JasperBean is getting better at playing with his peers. At the end of the day, a child’s development will vary from one child to another. Thinking back, I have come across children under 2 who can happily engage in group play and similarly those over 3-4 who still prefer to play alone. There is no right or wrong way to play. There are many factors such as background, personality and personal milestones etc. that will affect how a child develops and at what rate. Therefore, I refuse to get angry or frustrated when I hear someone say my child doesn’t know how to play with others or doesn’t want to share.
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.

Takeaway

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…

Love, MsMamaBean

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.

Sources:

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.


This post is linked up to the following linkys:

diaryofanimperfectmumTwin Mummy and DaddyBrilliant blog posts on HonestMum.comTwo Tiny HandsTwo Tiny Hands

 

34 comments

  1. Nicki

    This is a brilliant resource I find my 4 year often does this, they can really pick up lots from watching others

    Reply

  2. elizabethcolette

    Thank you for sharing! I have an 18 month old and he does parallel play whenever we have little playdates. I’m glad to know it is totally normal!

    Reply

  3. Cassie

    Children are definitely sponges taking in everything we do!!

    Reply

  4. nichole

    This is an awesome post, my son is about 1 and a half and he may talk to us, but when it comes to others he is very shy. I’ve always been told I should keep a close eye on him, but I think he just likes to do things his way.

    Reply

  5. Page_Traveller

    Totally relate to this! I used to teach playgroup classes (six months to three years) and can definitely vouch for children developing at their own pace. There’s so much time and there’s no such thing as ‘normal’. Rather than spend this period worrying that your child isn’t hitting the ‘right’ milestones, I wish more parents would just appreciate this time with their kids – it goes so fast!

    Reply

    1. MsMamaBean

      Thanks for commenting and coming from someone who has had so much experience with kids as well! I agree, it’s so much more important to have quality time with our kids, it’s these moments that will stay with us forever!

      Reply

  6. tinmccarthy

    Ive definitely noticed a difference in my older girls social development compared to the twins. The older girls had daycare from a very young age. The twins didnt. The twins however have eachother so their creative play with one another is really advanced as every second of their lives is a developmental opportunity,

    #familyfun

    Reply

    1. MsMamaBean

      Thanks for commenting! It’s great to hear your experience as you have experienced this first hand in and out of formal settings with a single child/with siblings and twins! It’s amazing how they all develop so differently. x

      Reply

  7. Pooja Krishna

    As a mom I feel, that most kids anyway indulge in parallel play. Most kids will eagerly wait for their friends and end up either arguing or doing their own thing. Plus, with so much overstimulation, self play is a better way to mindfulness.

    Reply

  8. Joscelyn

    This is a very interesting perspective! I thought my kids were too shy to play with others, but the idea of parallel play totally makes sense! Happy to hear that it’s normal!

    Reply

  9. SC

    Such an interesting read! I definitely learned from my older brother how to play by myself. I remember playing with dolls for hours on end. I think it’s great if kids can entertain themselves (without technology)!
    Cheers, Sarah Camille // SCsScoop.com

    Reply

  10. Karen Dennis, the next best thing to mummy

    I have written two blog posts on child led play #blogginggoodtime@_karendennis

    Reply

  11. yanrula

    Hey! I really love your blog here so I nominated you for the Blogger Recognition Award. Congrats! 😀

    yanrula x

    Let’s connect: Bloglovin’

    Reply

    1. MsMamaBean

      Thank you so much! I’m was so shocked when I read this and still can’t quite believe it! Your blog is amazing and that’s why you deserved the recognition, I can only hope that I can be as good as some of the blogs out there, including yours! I have followed you on Bloglovin! x

      Reply

  12. twotinyhands

    Fascinating to read, I’m a believer in good play and love the parallel play explanation. All kids develop different skills at different times, they are particularly remarkable things, they have so much to take on board all the time it’s no wonder they just watch!! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

    Reply

  13. Flo

    This is interesting, I’ll have to pass along this info to my sister-in-law. I admit that we have often drawn the conclusion that her boys were withdrawn in social environments with their peers, never heard of parallel play.

    Reply

  14. Twin Mum/Dad: Emily (@Twinmumanddad)

    Each child develops differently depending on their surroundings, family and the level of social activity they’re involved in. Very interesting read. Thanks for linking up to #ThatFridayLinky

    Reply

  15. RawChildhood

    People don’t realise how important play is for children’s development and it’s something that I always try to stress both on my blog and in real life too. There are so many ways to play and it’s not publicised enough. Love this post! #thatfridaylinky

    Reply

  16. diynige

    This is a fantastic informative kids develop in their own time Thanks for linking to the #THAT FRIDAY LINKY come back next week please

    Reply

  17. Twinkle Sharma

    Playing is really essential for a child’s development part which can not be ignored. Overall development of child is directly proportional to playing.

    Reply

  18. tammymum

    That’s a really interesting article, I think my children often parallel play, I have seen them do it lots over the years. I think all children develop differently and do things at their own rate and to compare them to others can often make us feel worse, when we shouldn’t. Thank you for joining gus at #familyfun and thank you ever so much for your thoughtful comment you left on my post xx

    Reply

  19. mandyarraiz

    This article is super interesting. Thank you. I look forward to the next article!

    Reply

  20. Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate

    As someone who doesn’t have kids (or a developmental background), this is all so interesting to learn!

    Reply

  21. Epic Train Journey #FamilyFunLinky - Two Tiny Hands - Adventures with the Robot

    […] weeks winner of “I’m a #FamilyFun Number One” goes to Nita from Mummy Wishes for Play is Not Just “Childs Play”.  If you’re a regular on the blog then you know I love to play and this post is a good […]

    Reply

    1. MsMamaBean

      Thank you so much!! I really appreciate this and am glad that so many people can relate to it 😊

      Reply

  22. echoesofhervoice

    This is a very interesting post. I’m sure you will be able to help a lot of others who are interested in this topic. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  23. Grace Dela Cruz

    I currently don’t have kids but I can use this information for when I will as well as mYbe towards my 7 nieces & nephew.

    Reply

    1. MsMamaBean

      Even if you don’t have kids, it’s a good piece of information to know as sometimes we do jump into conclusion too easily about other people. Sharing knowledge is one way we can combat early judgement. Please come visit again x

      Reply

  24. Mummy in a TuTu (@mummyinatutu)

    A really interesting post pack full of information
    thanks for linking to #ablogginggoodtime

    Reply

  25. Melissa Bernardo

    Glad to know that this is normal Play. Thank you for sharing your post!

    Reply

  26. Papri Ganguly

    Playing is the most important thing of child’s physical and mental development. I find my 2.5 year engaging in parallel pay which really helpful for her growing.

    Reply

  27. Mrs Mummy Harris

    Hubby used to set up his toys and then sit and watch kids play with them… I think its so weird but then he is a Mortician now hahaha! Ben is the only child on hubby’s side of the family and doesn’t interact with kids much but he still plays with us adults and I know when it comes to nursery he’ll be fine as he is such a chilled out, easy going boy. #thatfridaylinky

    Reply

  28. Mary Leigh

    Great post! Parallel play is important for Kidd’s development!

    Reply

  29. Claire (@clairebeary94)

    Interesting read! Great to learn these facts even though you are not a mom. Just helps to understand kids’ behaviors.

    Reply

Let me know what you think!

%d bloggers like this: