Parents as Their Kids’ Sole Playmates
Parents can fall into a pattern of behavior, the path of least resistance, in which parents become their kids’ sole playmates. Few parents set out to be their kids’ sole playmates, and most parents recognize that kids need to learn to interact socially with a diverse group of individuals and kids also need to learn to play independently as well. How do parents seek to fulfill these objectives?
Kids Need to Learn to Interact Socially with a Diverse Group of Individuals
Parents or nannies should arrange play dates for their kids. Yes, it can take a lot of work . . . calling other parents, finding a time that suits everyone’s schedules, arranging for an activity to keep the kids occupied, transporting kids, supervising kids (some of whom are not your own), ensuring that attendees are happy and safe, and returning kids to their homes at the conclusion of the play date. It can be exhausting. It can also be fun . . . for parents as well as kids. Not only do play dates teach kids social skills and foster relationships with their peers, If other parents attend play dates with their kids, parents can make new friends of their own and broaden their social circle. Everybody wins.
Play dates can be in your home, in an alternate location (i.e., a museum), or outside (i.e., a city park). Play dates can be inclusive (i.e., everyone in the kids’ classes at school) or exclusive (i.e., only the kids’ closest friends). Play dates can reinforce of a social circle (i.e., including only those people already in the social circle) or augment a social circle (i.e., create a new social circle or add individuals to an existing social circle). This author recommends arranging play dates of each variety at various times . . . this keeps play dates from becoming routine. For purposes of this article, we will focus only on play dates that are in-home, inclusive, and augmenting. In-home play dates typically can foster a greater sense of connection between kids. Inclusive and augmenting play dates allow kids to learn social skills in a diverse context. Your kids’ classes likely involve kids from a variety of socioeconomic groups, religions, races, etc. Learning to interact socially with a diverse group, and to interact with ease, is an essential skill today. It broadens your kids’ perspectives, helps them develop the ability to consider and validate perspectives other than their own, and can even have professional ramifications when they are adults (i.e., their ability to interact effectively with diverse groups can be a valuable skills when working for a multi-national organization, a company that does business in foreign locations, or a company that employs a diverse group of employees).
Play dates can also incorporate diversity of age. For example, consider the following. Joan and Kelly are best friends. Joan has one child, a five-year-old daughter. Kelly has two children, a 14-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. Joan and Kelly arrange a play date for themselves and their daughters. This Saturday, they will have lunch together followed by an afternoon at the local water park. While Joan and Kelly are enjoying their time together, they are also supervising their daughters who are bonding with each other and learning to relate effectively with people who are of diverse ages. “Play dates” can also be arranged between grandparents and grandchildren or other representations of age diversity.
Kids Also Need to Learn to Play Independently
Independent play does not mean play without parental supervision. Independent play merely means play in which no other individuals are directly involved. In other words, there are no play partners.
Parents should set aside time for their kids’ independent play. Some parents find this unnerving, as if the independent play is necessarily isolating or creates emotional distance between parent and child. However, by giving kids’ time to play on their own with dolls, technology, or other amusements, kids learn to occupy and entertain themselves. Kids who cannot occupy themselves are at a significant disadvantage in both childhood and adulthood.
Parents can teach their kids to play independently by providing their kids with time and opportunity . . . and perhaps making suggestions every now and then. Regarding time, parents should set aside a little time each day for their kids’ independent play. Opportunities exist in toys, books, a computer, a swing set, a neighborhood park, and tools that only a child’s imagination can turn into something of wonder (i.e., lawn chairs and blankets becoming a fort the child occupies). Regarding suggestions, kids who are learning to play independently need parental suggestions at first. Suggestions may include: “How about reading your new book?” or “Would you like to play with your dolly?” As kids become more experienced with independent play, they may seek parental suggestions less often as the kids become adept at finding their own independent play techniques. If a child who is experienced in independent play asks for parental suggestions, the parent may respond by saying, “Well, what would you like to do?” By responding as such, parents are helping their kids accept responsibility for their own independent play.
Most parents recognize that kids need to learn to interact socially with a diverse group of individuals and kids also need to learn to play independently as well. By following the tips above, parents can seek to fulfill these objectives.