The Importance of Co-PlayDianna Graveman |22, February 2012
Play is child's work. It's how they learn about the world around them and how to socialize. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children learn life skills when they play that will help them understand how to make and keep friends. But, warns the Academy, learning to socialize takes practice and isn't learned during one play date.
During your child's first year, he will mostly focus on developing his own skills like picking up objects, crawling, and possibly walking. He may or may not be fearful of strangers and enjoy interacting with other people, but he will probably prefer to interact with his parents or primary caregivers. By 18 months, he may be aware of another child's distress, but is still not able to empathize. Most likely, he will not begin to really enjoy playing with other children until around two. Sharing will be difficult at first, and parents can expect some aggressive behavior. But by age three, most little ones begin to learn how to make friends. Healthychildren.org (from AAP) suggests that when young children play with others about their own age, they learn to cooperate, to solve problems, and to both lead and follow, depending on the situation. Be sure to provide multiple opportunities for your child, when possible, to practice her budding socialization skills.
Following are some tips for providing fun and beneficial co-play opportunities:
- Invite other children to your home
- If your child is in preschool, find out which children she likes to play with.
- Keep it short--one hour at most.
- In the beginning, one playmate is plenty.
- Invite the other parent to stay; if he or she cannot or if you are trading favors by caring for her child, make sure you have the means to contact her at all times.
- Avoid encouraging aggressive play or competitive games.
- Ask ahead about the other child's preferences for toys and snacks.
- Don't expect (or ask) your child to share his favorite toy or all his toys.
- As always, make sure your home is child-proofed and safe for all.
- Don't overschedule; have some activities or toys ready, but allow the children to decide how they will interact.
- Allow the children to resolve their differences, if appropriate.
- Take your child to the park to play, where she may have a chance to interact with other children she does not know.
- Accept an invitation for your child to play at someone else's home, or arrange a "play date swap" so each of you can have an hour to run errands. Plan to stay with your child the first time, especially if he is fearful of people he doesn't know.
- Join a play group or a "Mommy and Me" class. Check with your local library to inquire about story time or planned craft activities for little ones.
- If you belong to a church, inquire about summer activities like "Vacation Bible School."
- Form your own playgroup by reaching out to other mothers in your neighborhood, preschool, church, or at the library.
- Remember that socialization takes practice! Give your child (and another child playing at your home) reminders that "we don't hit people." Offer alternative choices, if you must refuse a child's request for something.
- Expect some aggressive behavior if a child is frustrated. Make sure the children have enough space to play, and redirect children to a more positive activity if an argument erupts.
- Keep an eye on the time! If children become tired or hungry, they may act aggressively. They may also act out if they are too hot or too cold, or if any other basic needs are not met. Especially at a very young age, when they are working hard to learn how to make friends and play nicely, they may simply become overwhelmed or overstimulated. Know when it's time for co-play to end.
- Teach your child to thank her playmate for their time together, and arrange to meet again another day! After all, practice makes perfect.
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