I hope the holiday weekend gave you lots of opportunities for play. Play is learning; and, it is learning for life!  Take a moment and check out the video at the bottom of the page on The Incredible Years program.  At the beginning of this webpage for The Incredible Years program.   Throughout the video they talk about play between parents and children and relationship building. Imagine what can happen, if you learn to play with your child. The parents are so honest about what if felt like to learn to play with their children. If learning to play with a child is the first step to changing severe behavior problems like what is presented here, what will happen in a family in which play is there from the beginning. Before I go on go to the link and listen to video clip at the bottom of the page.

You may not believe me but try it! Prove me wrong. For children ages 5 and under, five minutes of uninterrupted child-directed play every day at about the same time of day will improve your child’s behavior. Child directed play is so simple and so powerful. Children learn self-esteem, self-control, language skills, and relationship skills. It is the first step in every scientifically supported intervention with children with severe behavior problems. This is rich medicine.

Here are the basic rules:

1. The child leads the play. You set up the structure by setting out 2 – 4 toys that support free play (no rules or directions of any kind). Some examples are blocks, crayons and paper, dolls, animals, cars. Never use toys that make big messes, encourage violent themes, or have directions. Use a table with chairs so that it is clear that you are having special play time. Do it at about the same time like after lunch or before dinner as close to every day as you possibly can. At the end of five minutes, tell your child how much you enjoyed the play and that you will do it again tomorrow. It often works best if you can permit them to keep playing for awhile on their own, if they want. During the five minutes: NOTHING interrupts or distracts you from them.

2. For five minutes straight the goal is to talk constantly about what your child is doing, what you like about what they are doing, and how it makes you feel good. The goal is to describe and praise his or her behavior in a warm and enthusiastic way. I am so proud of how patiently you are planning that building. I love watching how carefully you are balancing those blocks. Wow, that is tricky and you have kept on working with so much determination. I really have fun watching you make that fancy building. It is so smart how you kept trying to find new ways to add to the stack.

3. Show your child how much you admire their ideas by copying their play and letting them model for you the way to play with the toys. I’m going to draw just like you. I will make circles and waves with a crayon just the same. You have chosen such beautiful colors. I have a lot more fun doing this with you.

4. Don’t ask any questions. THIS RULE IS SO HARD TO LEARN. The only way to learn is to practice, practice, practice, and practice. When you ask a question, you are giving the child a command: tell me what you want to do. Just play and let your child show you. This is not the time to teach. You can repeat your child’s words and model more advanced language or concepts. For example, baby-talk descriptions can be repeated with mature enunciation or concepts. For example, your son says, “I will use red squares to build my house.” You might say, ” I see that you have made a really nice wall from the red rectangles. It is sturdy and strong! What a great plan you have made!”

5. No sneaky commands. Children are very sensitive to being told what to do and adults are terrible at noticing how bossy we are. When you say let’s  you are giving a command. You are actually saying to the child that you and I should . . . . When you say We can both take turns.  You are telling the child to take turns. You can, will, and should practice consistently instructing your child EXCEPT FOR THESE FIVE MINUTES.

6. There are a few things that put this simple powerful tool out of reach. It takes practice. Once you learn it, it is easy and fun but it takes practice to learn. Do not go over five minutes because the whole thing depends on consistency. Sometimes it feels like you don’t have five minutes. You do. You and your child deserve it.

These great ideas are from Parent-Child Interaction Therapy by Cheryl McNeil. They are not too different from Incredible Years nor Gerald Patterson’s parenting program. Playing with young children allows them to teach us all their wonderful skills, abilities, and gifts. Praising children for very specific behaviors while they feel good, seems to teach them what you value and how to make the world better for themselves by not giving up and by noticing how wonderful you think they are.

Tell me how it went. Was I right? What changed after  you learned how to do this?