Rx: Playtime

Rx: Playtime

  • P = Praise your child's positive behavior

    R = Reflect your child's appropriate talk to show you're interested and listening

    I = Imitate your child's play to show you're involved and open to their lead

    D = Describe positive things your child is doing

    E = Enjoy your time by smiling, laughing, and showing with your nonverbal cues that you are having fun with them

Play is one of the most underutilized strategies for anger management. I am a therapist who works with parents who are struggling to help their children express feelings in appropriate ways…and there’s no shortage of frustration for all parties involved. 

Many times, the first go-to strategy is to have a “sit-down talk.” You know the one I mean. It’s in the kitchen or family room. The child is sitting on their chair, face to face with mom or dad (maybe both). Everyone in the room knows the impending discussion is going to be cringe-worthy. A triggering event lead you all to this conversation, yet no one really wants to be there having it. Skip to the end, where many parents (and kids) walk away from that conversation feeling like it was unsuccessful and totally uncomfortable. And usually, kids end up feeling misunderstood or badly about their feelings. 

Of course, this isn’t our intention. We set out to have our “sit down talks” with our kids with the goal of solving a problem or teaching a lesson (usually both). But all too often I hear parents feeling disappointed about the outcome. They fear the message wasn’t received and the problem will inevitably repeat itself. 

Playing with our kids rarely seems like a way to teach lessons. But maybe it should be.

The emotional benefits of 10 minutes of daily playtime with your kids has the potential to be way more powerful than that sit-down talk in the kitchen. And more fun for everyone too!

Children come home at the end of every day with an emotional backpack filled to the brim. Are they going to sit down and share all those stories with you? No, probably not. But that’s okay. The beauty of this new approach is that you don’t even need to pressure yourself to pry all the details out of your kids. Instead, you will trade the “how was your day” talk for playtime.

This playtime isn’t just any playtime either. This is 10 minutes of child-directed play, which means your kids get to choose what to play, how to play it, and they are in charge. If they want to wrestle and rough-house, great, you’re game. If they want to play a traditional game with completely different rules, totally fine. You hop on the train and they control the rest. If it’s 10 minutes of fun and laughter, you are doing it right.

Child-directed play is not meant to be a prescription to fix a specific problem. But rather it’s a daily practice meant to prevent excessive build-up of big emotions that often become overwhelming for kids to express appropriately. Think of it like a balloon that gets filled up with air each day. Play time lets some of that air out so tomorrow when they go to school, the balloon doesn’t burst before the day is over.

The benefits of this build-in playtime are vital to building emotional intelligence in your children through the act of play. You will be cultivating a stronger bond with your child by giving them focused parental attention without needing to rely on a tantrum or negative behavior to get it. The stronger bond is what allows them to feel comfortable telling you when they feel sad, mad or scared, rather than defaulting to a tantrum to get their point across. Your praise and responsiveness enhance their self-esteem and promotes the release of "feel-good" hormones in both of your bodies, such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. This release of hormones helps your child feel so good that it will motivate them to be more cooperative and receptive to your direction, especially during times when they can’t be in charge. 

So next time you're searching for a way to help your kids cope with big feelings, playtime might be the answer!

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