DFWChild / Articles / Family Life / Behavior / Talking With Your Child Through Play: 5 Expert Tips
Mom having time to play with son

Talking With Your Child Through Play: 5 Expert Tips

how to make time to be emotionally available

When traumatic events happen (like a life-altering pandemic), kids are better prepared if they feel seen and heard by their parents. In fact, having a trusted adult they can share anything with is one of the building blocks of resilience—the quality of being able to bounce forward from bad times. If you don’t have an open line of communication with your child, start with play.

“Play is huge with our kids—that’s how kids learn best. Heck, it’s how adults learn best,” says Molly Davidson, a training specialist at TCU’s Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development. “If you’re laughing and having fun, you’re much more apt to being open to hard things or hard conversations.”

Here’s her advice for setting up a daily playdate with your child in order to foster a closer connection:

Strategically Set a Playdate

Designate a time every day to connect with your child for just 10 minutes, but be smart about the time you choose. “Right when you walk in the door from the day, that may not be the right time,” Davidson says. “Pick a time that’s going to set you up for success.”

If you have multiple kids, be sure to factor that in as well—each kiddo should have their own private playdate, and once one child has had their special time with you, the others will want attention too. The time adds up.

Let Them Pick the Play

Whether your child wants to dress up, shoot hoops or destroy you in Fortnite, honor their choice. “If you play pretend with your 6-year-old for 10 minutes, it feels like an eternity, but let them do it,” Davidson says.

In case you didn’t know, as adults, we like to control things. I know—it’s shocking. But quash the urge to make sure your child is doing the activity correctly, no matter how loudly the little voice in your head is insisting, That’s not how you do it!

“Say, ‘I’m going to let the kid direct the play in its entirety, and I’m just going to play. I’m not going to try to control this scenario, even if they want to put the puzzle together totally wrong,’” Davidson advises.

Don’t Use Connection as a Reward

This playtime shouldn’t be contingent on their behavior. “If they’re being good, then we connect, and if they’re being bad, then we disconnect—that sends a message to them that ‘You’re only worthy of my time when you behave the way I want you to,’” explains Davidson.

Even if they come home with a disciplinary note or speak to you disrespectfully moments before the designated playtime, don’t cancel. Who knows? They may even open up about their feelings during your playdate if they view it as a safe space.

Be Emotionally Available

Davidson reveals that in her work with kids from traumatic backgrounds, she had more kids open up about their problems on car rides than anywhere else. “They knew I could hear them and see them and they could tell me things, but it didn’t feel like so much pressure,” she says.

Letting your child choose an activity they’re comfortable with facilitates vulnerability, and it gives you both something to do while you talk. That’s the whole point of this daily playtime: making sure your child feels seen, heard and safe—safe enough to open up about their feelings.

Remember, this is not an interrogation or a lecture. Listen to your child, and talk with them—not at them.

Press On Through the Awkwardness

“If this is not a regular practice in your house, it’s going to be awkward at first,” Davidson warns. “Kids are going to be like, ‘Wait, what are you doing? Is it a setup? Why are you all of sudden trying to make intentional eye contact with me and ask me about my feelings?’”

Don’t give up just because it feels weird or your kids are slow to buy in. If you have to, start with five minutes of play instead of 10. Lower the bar, and give yourself grace.

Image courtesy of iStock.