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Parent/Child Interactions 

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Children need playtime with their parents and caregivers!

When parents play with their children, children learn many important skills:

  • social skills.

  • cognitive (thinking) skills.

  • the ability to regulate their emotions.

  • the ability to manage their behavior.

When parents play with children, children also develop attachment. Attachment is:

  • a mutual relationship between a child and a caregiver.

  • critical to healthy development.

Attachment looks like this: a caregiver reads the cues from a child or baby -- and meets the child’s needs. The child then responds with trust and interest.

It's important for other caring adults, in addition to parents, to be in children's lives. Since many children spend much of their day in out-of-home care, children need to become attached to other adults. It's possible -- and helpful -- for children to love and become attached to more than one adult. Children thrive in any environment that fosters attachment through consistent and loving care. 

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Why is Play So Important?

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Play helps children to learn about their world -- while developing emotionally, socially, and intellectually.

There’s no right or wrong way to play. Children simply need:

  • safe toys.

  • safe places.

  • encouragement to experiment and express themselves.

  • opportunities to learn on their own and have some control over their own environment. 

  • opportunities to to connect with other people -- including adults and other children.

Playing with peers helps children learn social skills. They learn how to make and keep friends.

Encourage your child to take part in healthy playtime. Take your child to a park or other community area to play with other children. Join or start an organized play group.

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Making Playdates

Children need playtime with their peers. Here's how you can help make playtime positive for all:

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  1. Invite other children to your home, playground, park, or other community area.

    • Keep the first visit short (an hour or less).

    • Try to involve only one other child.

    • Plan to end before everyone gets too tired.

    • Know how to contact the other child’s parent.

    • Find out if the other child has any allergies or foods they should avoid.

  2. Go to another child’s home.

    • For the first visit, you may want to stay until you know your child is comfortable being there without you.

    • Get to know the other child’s parents. You might be able to help each other out!

  3. Join an organized play group.

    • Limit the group to a small number of children. Children do better in smaller groups when not every child's parents will be present.

  4. Find out who your child already likes to play with.

    • Invite that friend to your home, park, playground, or a community area.

  5. Make your home a great place to play.

    • Plan ahead. Avoid items like toy guns that encourage aggressive play.

    • Find out what your visitors enjoy. Ask your child. Playtime will be more fun, and this teaches your child to be thoughtful.

    • Have enough items for everyone. If there aren’t enough, suggest another activity.

    • Your child’s “favorite thing” does not need to be shared. Let your child put away a few things that are off limits.

    • Make your home a safe place. Poisons need to be locked away. Homes without guns are the safest. But if there are guns, they must be stored locked and unloaded; bullets need to be stored in another locked place.

    • Do not over-plan. Just set the stage with materials and ideas. Let the children use their creativity and imaginations!

    • Come up with some activities. (While you keep an eye on safety, several young children can enjoy cutting out shapes for arts and crafts.) Try to only get involved when children need your help. 

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Play Activities for Kids


There's almost no end to the kinds of activities children enjoy. Here are a few ideas for children from 0 to age 3:

  1. Simple toddler sensory play: exploring shapes, using Playdough, touching safe objects. 

  2. The quiet or busy box: full of things that young children are able to manage independently (soft toys, blocks, and more).

  3. Felt to encourage imaginative play. Play cooking cropped 2015

  4. Matching games.

  5. Floating a bath toy in a pan of water.

  6. Touching a pan of fresh herbs.

  7. Playing together with flashlights.

  8. Tummy time finger-painting.

  9. Sensory bags, which are taped to the floor.

  10. Grasping baskets that have easy-to-hold toys.

  11. Stacking and un-stacking bowls that fit inside one another.

  12. Looking at an accordion-style book or turn the pages of a board book.

  13. Doing sensory play with gourds.

Check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children for more play ideas.

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To Engage a Child in Play

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Here's how to help your child have the best time playing:

  1. Jump in! Playtime with a caregiver is super important to a child.

  2. Let go! Add to a child’s play experiences by creating imaginative games and finding new ways to use toys. Use blocks as flying cars. Pretend to be animals (with dress-up clothes, regular clothes, or blankets). Encourage a child to make-believe and think creatively.

  3. Take a break! Even though children often learn the most when they interact with others, playtime alone gives them time to process what they've been doing.

  4. Participate! Encourage children's imagination by becoming involved wholeheartedly and going along with their games.

  5. Let a child guide his play! Let a child pick the activity and decide how it is played.

  6. Pay attention to the child’s mood and adapt the play to his mood. If your child seems quiet, allow quiet games. If your child seems energetic, play more active games.

  7. Let children make things up! Children need to use their imaginations and make up fanciful stories. Go along with your child when she tells you far-out things. Let your child write a letter to the Tooth Fairy if she has the idea. Say things like, "Oh! Tell me more about the elf on a shelf," instead of telling her that elves don't exist. Say, "What kind of dog are you?" instead of saying he's not really a dog.

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Watch for Over-Stimulation

It’s important to stop playing when your child loses interest.

When babies have had enough, they disengage, turn their heads, or start to cry.

Visit again soon for updates on this info.

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Reading to Children

Reading with your children -- even babies -- is one of the most important things you can do. Reading not only helps children learn, it helps them develop self-discipline and concentration.

Even better, when you read to your children, you and your children get to bond. Reading books 2 2015

Here are a few things to know about reading with children:

  1. Allow babies to play with and even chew on books. When they can touch and taste books, they get familiar with them.

  2. Let babies and children come and go during story time.

  3. Know that children between the ages of 12 and 18 months usually can enjoy books for a just few minutes.

  4. Keep questions simple. Point to pictures in the book, ask what the pictures are, wait for the answer if they can speak, or give the answer if they cannot.

  5. Always give positive reinforcement. Figure out what's right about your child's ideas and answers. If your child says, "That's a buffalo," and you know it's a bear, say something like, "The brown buffalo does look like a bear. They're the same color and size. But a bear has big teeth. Do you see those teeth?!"

  6. Use expressive language like, "Look at that!” “The sheep says Baaaaah!” “That cow is black and white.”

  7. When possible, choose books that will be best for children, based on their age:

    • Birth to 3 months: Share books with pictures that have sharp contrasts. Black on white books are a helpful distraction during tummy time

    • 4 to 6 months: Introduce soft books. At this age, babies are more able to reach and grasp -- and they even see better. 

    • 7 to 9 months: Offer bright board books with lots of color and without many words. At this age, babies begin picking things up with their thumb and pointer finger -- so they can practice turning stiff pages on their own. 

    • 10 to 12 months: Share board books with words. At this age, babies are better able to understand what people are saying. Stories that use rhymes and repetition are fun because of their sing-song sound. This also aids in memory and language development.

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Aggressive Play Behavior

Anger is a normal and important emotion. It can also be normal for an angry child to become aggressive, at times, during play.

Here are some steps to keep aggressive behavior to a minimum -- and help children learn healthy ways to express anger:Sad face 2015

  1. Be a role model. Express your own anger in healthy ways. Send helpful messages to children about feeling and expressing anger in your everyday actions. 

  2. Let children know that it is natural and normal to feel angry at times.

  3. Never laugh at, ignore, shame, or punish children just for being angry.

  4. Let children know that it is not OK to express anger in a way that hurts other people, animals, nature, or objects.

  5. Help children figure out how to tell others they are angry without hurting them. Teach young children how to use words to express anger.

  6. Create an emotional environment that is safe. Encourage children to express their feelings. Support them when they do. Watch for gender stereotypes. Make sure boys are supported to express fear and sadness -- and that girls are supported to express anger and frustration.

  7. Help children expand their vocabulary of feelings. Teach them that they are having a feeling and that the feeling has a name. Also teach them that there is a range of feelings.

  8. Explain angry feelings. Encourage angry children to talk about situations that made them angry. Use puppets to role-play situations where children get angry and handle it in a positive way.

  9. Use books and stories about anger. Choose books about anger carefully, so that children get correct information about anger and its management.

  10. Suggest simple statements for your child to use when feeling threatened. She could say, "I'm getting into the danger zone," or "Red alert." This can cue you to help her deal with her fear and anger.

  11. Encourage him to make clear and strong statements in “a big voice” -- without yelling, screaming, whining, or pleading. 

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