I really enjoy sitting back and watching our young man using his imagination. He is the type of child that will be sitting watching a movie then all of a sudden he starts to act it out. His imaginative play can be quite simple and sometimes he develops these grand stories that go along with his play.
What are the benefits of imaginative play?
1. You get a real-life view of how your child is feeling or coping with a situation
If you sit back and watch or engage in your child’s imaginative play (letting your child take the lead) you will learn a great deal about how they are feeling. Play therapy is a tool that many therapists use with young children.
For example, our 5.5-year-old has been engaging in a great deal of play related to not being allergic to things. He has some anaphylactic allergies and some sensitivities. His play has indicated to me that he just wants to be able to eat what he wants. This play has allowed us to have many conversations about how “allergies suck but we can handle it”. This play gives him a chance to work out his frustrations with the allergies.
2. You get to observe your child questioning his environment
Children are constantly watching and seeing how others react and interact in their world. Their minds are filled with wonder. Wondering why things are one way for one person but different for another person.
For example, our son pretends that he has another mother. He does not act out that he has another father. Should I be offended by this? No! This is his way of trying to figure out why his older brothers have 2 homes with 2 mother figures. We have had wonderful conversations about how lots of children have 2 homes. It can also lead to conversations about the different family dynamics that exist.
3. You can role model how to act in various situations
Children are constantly looking to you for guidance in how to act or react in a situation. When children do not know what to expect in a certain situation you can teach them how to act or react by using imaginative play. This is referred to as role-playing.
Children learn a great deal through role playing. If your child is attending a doctors appointment you can role play with her what will happen and things that she may have to do like having her blood pressure taken. We recently had some role playing around getting a needle. Our son used to be great at getting bloodwork done. Well, needless to say, this is not the case anymore. I know he will have to get blood work in the next few months so we are preparing him through role-playing.
4. You get a clear understanding of how your child views your behavior
Remember your child is often watching how you are behaving. If your child begins to act out in a certain way stop and check to see if your behavior is being mimicked. I have seen this a great deal as a parent and as a worker in the child development field. I have worked with a number of parents that were really frustrated with their child’s behavior. It became very clear that the child was acting just like his parent. Our little people can be a mirror of our behavior.
For example, I have the luxury of having people that come in to clean our house every couple of weeks. For awhile, I was noticing all the things that were being missed. I would make a statement that went something like this “man the cleaners…”. Fast forward a few weeks and when we walked in the door to a beautifully clean house my young man, then 4 years of age, would say “man the cleaners..” before I got a chance to even see what was happening. This made me stop and remember that having a cleaner is a privilege that I should be embracing and not be criticizing.
Hang on for the amazing ride!
When given the chance to use imaginative play, the sky can be the limit to what you learn and how creative your child will be. Typically children begin to use imaginative play around the age of 18 months. You can sometimes see this at an earlier age. Usually, you will notice your little one pretending to be on the phone or using another object similar to the ones you use. When you start to see these behaviors, hang on and enjoy watching your little one be creative and explore the world with a different lense!
Feel free to join me in the forums to discuss your child’s imaginative play. I would love to hear stories that your child acts out.
I have had the pleasure of working with Laura Karl and we share a similar belief system when it comes to tantrums. I am honoured to share her guest blog post with you.
How to respond to tantrums: a Holistic Life Coach’s perspective
Through my work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, I have learned many many therapeutic interventions, but the most powerful one that I’ve learned through my Holistic Life Coaching practice and motherhood that can bring both the parent and child immediate relief is “holding the space”. When a child was in a full emotional meltdown, screaming and saying things they don’t mean, the only effective thing I could do in that moment was to find my centre, drop into my heart, be still, be calm, and just be there for the child. I would sit next to them and stay calm for the both of us.
I heard a great story tonight from one of my many life teachers. He told me a story about his dogs. He and his partner have 5 little dogs which they adore, but they like to bark for reasons they sometimes have no idea. He explained that he would respond by yelling back at them “hey stop it!”, “get back here”. Eventually, they went to a dog trainer for advice. The dog trainer told them that by yelling at them, you are essentially barking at them and they get the message from their pack leader that it is okay to bark. What the dogs actually need is a softer pack leader to stay calm so that they can return to a state of calm.
Now children obviously aren’t exactly like dogs, but the premise is the same. My child is still very young and although I am getting better at seeing the meltdown warning signs, it still seems to happen in the blink of an eye. In those moments when you observe their mood start to change and you’ve tried your best to keep the environment neutral, but a full on meltdown is already happening, the only thing you can do is hold the space. We parents want so badly to take the pain away for our children, which is a natural and very caring response. However, you can’t fight fire with fire right? Or all you are left with is fire! Get out of your head which is likely spinning with trying to figure this out, or to come up with solutions to make it stop, or wishing that this wasn’t happening yet again. Remember, kids are terrified of these feelings. They don’t want this any more than you do. So support them by taking a breath, dropping into your heart and finding your center, and just be there.
Okay parents, this takes practice! It’s not like you’re on some beach in Maui breathing in the salty fresh air, there is a child screaming in distress next to you. It’s like building any muscle and you have to work on it to get stronger. In those moments make sure the child is in a safe place, and then take a breath. Let the urge to fix or “bark back” wash over you – trust me, it will pass. Observe that urge, and then release it. You literally can feel the air change. In this moment, the most effective thing you can do is hold the space for your child. When they are ready, they will themselves release those emotions and be embraced by your calmness, lovingness, and peacefulness. Now breathe and give them and you a big hug.
Laura Karl, mother, Holistic Life Coach, Registered Nurse
Facebook: The Coach in You
Ask Another Expert!
A few weeks ago I was out with our youngest and was approached by someone who was questioning if our son hit the boy she was caring for. She actually questioned my 3 year old and not me. I was taken back. I did not know how to respond. I made sure our son was okay and reassured the caregiver that I would look into it.
After speaking with our 3-year-old, it was pretty obvious to me that he did not hit the other child. Now having said that, I understand he may not want to admit that to me. I spoke with the teacher and she did not witness any hitting; however, our son has an amazing imagination. Around this time he was enjoying acting like a “Ninja” (Thank-you to Disney’s Justin Time) or “Superhero”. He would swing his arms but did not make contact. This led us to a conversation about safe places to act like a ninja or superhero (watch out if you come to our house, a ninja may be present!).
I then got to thinking, what is the proper etiquette in situations like this? So I contacted an Etiquette Consultant, Maria Doll from Leadership Matters.
What to do when your child gets accused of wrongdoing…
You’re at playgroup with your son/daughter and having a wonderful time visiting with other parents while enjoying the budding friendships between the preschoolers. Then all of a sudden…POP! The happy bubble gets burst by a dismayed grandparent who accuses your child of hitting their grandchild. Immediately, you question your child and they adamantly deny doing such a thing. What to do next???
Before letting tempers get out of hand, take a step back and realize that children even as young as 3 or 4 yrs old will tell fibs or even outright lies. Sometimes the fib is just part of their imaginative play and is quite innocent. For example, my son loved Spiderman. One day, he happened to mention over lunch time how after being bitten by a spider he had the power to levitate to the next floor of our house. He said this in all seriousness!
Apart from the fantasies, sometimes children will lie to please us. For example, they will tell us that they ate everything on their plate. But we can see that it’s not true.
As they mature, young children will begin to make the distinction between truth and fiction. They will try lying to get themselves out of experiencing unpleasant consequences. It’s wise not to overreact as we don’t want them to become adept at being dishonest.
A parent or even grandparent who says their child would never lie isn’t living in reality. In the case of the playgroup incident, the grandparent was not sure who to believe. If there were no witnesses to corroborate, the grandparent shouldn’t be accusing you or your child. A better approach would be to say something like, “My grandchild told me that your son hit him. Now, I’m not accusing your son. I’m just trying to find out what happened.” This helps to keep emotions under control and doesn’t make it personal. Hopefully, both of you can figure out what happened and clear the air, as necessary. Is one guilty or do both share some of the blame?
Perhaps the grandchild is trying to get some needed attention from his grandparent. So he made up a whopper to get just that. Often, parents/caregivers are completely wrapped up in their smart phones that their children are ignored at playgroups as well as playgrounds. This may have been the case.
For the good of the group, you should avoid getting into a debate especially if the grandparent becomes belligerent. Say something like, “Well, I don’t know what to say. I’ll speak to my son again about proper behavior at playgroup.” Leave it that and walk away. If you respond in any manner that sounds accusatory of the other woman’s grandchild, it’s a No Win situation. Maybe she’s right and your child did take a bit of a swat at the boy. Later on, when everything calms down, try gently questioning your child to get their perspective on what happened.
These are trying moments as parents and none of us like to see our children being accused of wrongdoing particularly if they are innocent. However, see these moments as teachable times to form the important virtue of honesty. Reward honesty whenever you see it in your children.
Thank you, Maria Doll for your wonderful insight!
Phew! I did use the proper etiquette. After looking into the incident a bit further I spoke with the caregiver again and explained what I had discovered. I also kindly asked that she speak with me directly in the future as my son was quite upset and scared. She was so apologetic and we have moved forward. Next step is to get these 2 boys together at their own playdate!
Last week I was beginning to panic about not having summer activities planned out. I was frantically looking for activities to sign our 2-year-old son up for and trying to come up with ideas for our 14-year-old. Then I came across an article about the importance unstructured outside play. This article reassured me that my original decision to take it one day at a time and not be over programmed was a good choice.
So we have embarked on a summer where we “Fly by the Seat of our Pants.” Last Friday my little man stated he wanted to see a train. Fast forward one hour and we were sitting on the CTrain heading downtown with no destination in mind. Then we landed at the zoo where he was able to run around in the dinosaur area. We then turned around and went home via the train. It was liberating to go with the flow. Seeing the smile on my son’s face was awesome. The best part was when it was nap time it took a grand total of 2 minutes for him to fall asleep.
Yes, we do have a vague plan. For instance, we know we will be going to visit relatives. I have brainstormed a number of activities we can do. I will be making an activity jar for the days I cannot decide what to do that day. I will simply put a number of activities on pieces of paper in a jar. The day I cannot decide to the jar I go!!!
Some of the ideas of activities for our youngest is as follows:
- explore the neighbourhood
- feed the ducks
- indoor pools
- spray parks
- check out the many playgrounds in Calgary and surrounding areas
- visit Butterfield Acres (awesome interactive farm for children)
- backyard play
- visit the zoo
- bubble play
- throwing rocks in a stream or river
- water play with hoses and sprinklers
I then had another awesome realization!! I do not need to be the entertainment squad when my 14-year-old is here. He is an awesome young man that will follow along with his little brother if he chooses too. He is great at finding things to do. If he cannot, I will have a list of chores waiting for him! (A very easy way to encourage a teen to keep busy). I will admit he loves electronics but limits are a good thing!
My goal is to engage in as many child-directed play activities as possible. In a previous post, I explained how to engage in child-directed play. I am constantly amazed at how inventive and imaginative young ones can be when given the chance.
For example, we went to Spruce Meadows for the National Show Jumping event yesterday. We were in the line for our youngest to ride a pony. I originally thought it was going to be a painful wait. He kept himself (and me) entertained by running around (literally in circles), playing with some children he just met, picking grass, and then he starting practicing his gymnastics. I am so happy that I have made the choice not to worry about keeping my youngsters entertained all summer and refocused my plan to having fun and enjoying them as much as I can.
My wish for you is that you get to take time out for yourself and find things to do that work for you and your family.