Play Time With Your Child–Fun Leads to Cooperation

Often parents come to me feeling quite frustrated with the relationship they have with their child.  They report that the child is defiant, disobedient and rude.  Often the child has ADHD which only compounds the difficulties.  Whatever, the cause, it is a painful situation for all involved.  Parents feel unappreciated and angry.  Children report that they feel their parents don’t like them.  In fact, they all love each other, but they do not know how to improve the situation.  Hence the visit to the child psychologist.  Parents want to find out how to get their children to do as they are told.  This is a reasonable goal. Children want their parents to stop nagging; this is also a reasonable goal.

Some parents are taken aback when I recommend they spend twenty minutes a day with their child doing whatever the child wants.  “What? they wonder. ” This child is disrupting the family, and I am supposed to spend special time with her?  Shouldn’t I wait on that until she is compliant?  Are all child psychologists on the child’s side?”    Here is the reasoning behind this.  Before you can assert your authority without nagging and scolding, you need to build a better relationship. Children comply and obey in large part because they feel cared for and understood.  It is not a good relationship if a child obeys only because the parent has authority.  I think of this twenty minutes as investment.   It gives you relationship capital to draw upon when you have to tell her to turn off the television and start her homework.

Here is what you do.  Tell your child that you want to set aside twenty minutes a day (or fifteen but not less) to do an activity that she chooses.  That’s right.  You might end up playing blocks, Barbie, or X-Box. You might watch a television show.   As long as this is an activity that you allow in your home, it’s an acceptable choice.  Your job is to take an interest in the play and let your child take the lead.  Perhaps you will only watch your child play a video game, but you can ask questions and remark upon his or her skill.  Perhaps you’ll be ask to take a controller yourself in which case, you might be soundly beaten.  Again, you can ask for advice and model good sportsmanship.  I think you are getting the picture now.  This is time that your child structures.

You might think that this would be a good time to ask about homework or to remind your child to take out the trash when you are done.   This is a conflict free zone.  Your task is to interact with your child without asking questions about anything besides the present activity and without giving advice.  Of course, if your child asks your thoughts on how to play a better game of mancala, you can reply.

I have been interested to note that many other professionals recommend this strategy when beginning to work on children’s behavior.  In his excellent book, Parenting Children with ADHD, Vincent J. Monastra, Ph.D., recommends spending fifteen minutes a day “doing something nice with your kid.”  He recommends this because, “kids need a reason to learn” new behaviors.  Your relationship with your child is a big motivator.  Russell Barcley, Ph.D., another expert on ADHD, (www.russellbarkley.org) also makes this recommendation in his writing about parenting children with ADHD.   Some of you might be familiar the work of pediatrician, Stanley Greenspan, M.D., author of The Challenging Child (www.icdl.com).  He has strategy he calls “Floor time.”  Floor time encompasses much more than I have described here, but it starts with joining your child in a pleasant activity of the child’s choice.  From there Greenspan explains how a parent can involve the child in interactions that ask for more mature complex behaviors in very small steps.

Look for my newsletter coming soon with more ideas about using play to improve your relationship with your child.

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Play Time With Your Child–Fun Leads to Cooperation”
  1. Judi Stein says:

    Carolyn,

    This is a wonderful blog — one that I will gladly share with my clients! I often give the same suggestion to parents but I love the way you explain it! I look forward to reading more of your blogs!

    Judi

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Judi,
    So good to hear from you! Thanks for the compliments, and for passing my blog along.
    Carolyn