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Kid Confidential: Teaching Parents the Power of Play


" Play is such an integral part of a child’s development as it affects all areas of growth including, but not limited to, social skills, communication development, cognition, problem solving and reasoning skills, and imaginative thinking.  Involved parents want to know what they can do to help.  The problem is they don’t fully understand the importance of play or how their child’s thinking skills change and grow via play. So what do I do about this?  How do I try to teach parents how to play? 


Here are a few techniques I have used:

  • Parent education:  The first thing I do is teach parents why play is so important and how learning takes place.  I explain to parents why we need to incorporate play into our therapy and why their child needs to participate in play with them when I am not present. I also explain the types of play their child is currently exhibiting versus what types of play they should be exhibiting at their age.

  • Never make assumptions:  I will say something like “I would be remiss if I did not explain/show you how to…”.  Other times, I will say something like “I’m sure you already know this but I need to explain that…”.  Again, these are just two ways to help share my knowledge with parents while not treating them as if they are uneducated or making the assumption that they know more than they do.

  • Model and explain play:  I then create play scenarios at whatever level of play the child is functioning currently while attempting to expand the play and improve language and problem solving skills.  I carefully explain what I am looking for in a child’s play and how I am changing the play slightly in order to achieve those goals.

  • Give the parents a turn:  It is imperative that I make sure parents have a turn taking over the play interaction. If help is needed, I will guide the interactions while continually reducing support throughout the session.

  • Videotaping for success:  Videotaping parent/child play interactions can be an invaluable way to educate and empower parents. When parents see how they have taken suggestions and turned them into positive interactions with their child, they begin to anticipate and invest their time into participating in play more often with their child.

  • Follow up weekly:  The key to making this technique work is to make sure I follow up with parents and hold them accountable for their child’s play week to week.  I encourage parents to take videos on their smart phones and save them for our next session.  This way I can see the growth in their child and continue to provide assistance as needed.

Parents are always looking for the “right” ways to play.  So I give them a few tips:

  • Show some emotion:  Parents need to make sure their face, voice and entire body is showing the emotion they want to exude.  So when parents look their child in the eye, smile wholeheartedly and say, “I’m excited to be playing with you today!” or “This is really fun!”, I know they understand the importance of emotional in play.

  • Play when you can:  I ask them to try to play for one or two 15 minute increments a day.  For parents who work full-time and have several children, I have found this to be a more realistic expectation and request from them.  Also encouraging them to involve their other children in play is a stress reliever for some parents as children are great models for each other and many times siblings are vying for their parent’s attention.  Incorporating siblings in play, seems to help provide the much needed parental attention while teaching the whole family how to interact with a child who may have delays.

  • Turn off the TV and turn on some music:  I encourage parents to get rid of the visual distractions like television and if they must have some background noise, play some child friendly music instead.

  • Change out toys the child has available to them: This can keep a child’s play dynamic and guard against stagnation.

  • Mix and match toys:  Mixing and matching toys that would not typically go together encourages growth in a child’s imaginative play.  I have seen some amazing pretend play when I brought random toys to therapy for my clients.

  • Use nondescript toys/objects:  Some of the best pretend play I’ve observed comes from objects that don’t seem to look like anything in particular.  Have you ever placed a few boxes and a bucket of blocks in the middle of a room and watched preschoolers play?  It’s amazing the “thinks they can think”.  The more nondescript the object, the more creativity goes into the play."

Article Created by:

Duca, M. D. (2013, October 10). Kid Confidential: Teaching Parents the Power of Play. Retrieved June 26, 2020, from https://leader.pubs.asha.org/do/10.1044/kid-confidential-teaching-parents-the-power-of-play/full/

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