Meeting Your Child in Play

written by: Daniella BOYD

As a first time mom, I made the mistake of comparing the way that my child played to other kids. I saw kids his age interested in all kinds of toys and he really only wanted to play with circular objects–bowls, cups, coasters. I modeled, role played, got him different toys, and it didn’t make a difference in his play.

That’s because I was trying to convince my child to be interested in things that I wanted him to be interested in. I didn’t embrace his play and meet him where he was at. But once I did, it created opportunities to find new interests while also honoring his current interests.

Here’s a few things that I learned along the way:

  • Approach your child's play using a strength-based lens. What does your child love? What captures their focus and attention? How can you encourage this and introduce similar play and toys?
  • Secure attachment is important, even in play. When we make our kids feel like their play is "wrong", it chips away at this secure attachment. We can nuture our relationship with our kids by joining them in their play and in their interests.
  • Their play doesn't have to make sense to us as long as it is meaningful to them. It's a great reminder that they might be playing and creating something even more beautiful than we can imagine.
  • Create accessible spaces for your child to play so they can easily find what interests them.
  • It isn't about the "right" toys as much as it is the right mindset. You can make play out of anything and anywhere if you wish.

Following your child’s lead is a great strength-based approach because you meet your child where they are at and build from there. Some ways that you can do this include:

  • Observing and listening to your child's play without interruption to decide how you will join your child.
  • Using proximity to see if your child will invite you into their play.
  • Imitating or repeating back your child's play
  • Initiating parallel play by grabbing your own to to relate to your child's play or to extend your child's play. You could do this by making new sounds or playing with a similar toy in a way your child hasn't yet.
  • Incorporating movement where appropriate and especially if your child needs it to regulate their senses. Focusing less on what kids your child's age should be doing and ore on what your own child is doing. Do this to provide play options that won't frustrate them because they're not there yet.
  • Modelling language that they can use in play for things like taking turns or setting boundaries.

When my son was only interested in circular objects, I first joined him on the floor with new and different circular objects and I would hold them up and stare at them like he did. When I joined him this way, he would smile and hold my face in his little hands. I feel like maybe he was telling me “you get me.” And this memory pushes me to honor his play every day.

I always say that my autistic preschooler taught me how to really play because he taught me that all play is valid and that different kids find beauty in different ways.


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