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Incorporating a “special playtime” to strengthen your connection with your child

Guest Blog Post I wrote for

by Edie Schatz, LICSW

Spending “Special” or “Floor” time with your child can really help the two of you connect. These days, parents are busier than ever and that can make it hard to spend “quality time” with our kids. Did you know that a regularly scheduled “special playtime,” (an uninterrupted twenty to thirty minutes a couple of times a week) dedicated to playing distraction-free with your child can really make a difference?


Research suggests that if you do this a few times a week, it will enhance the relationship between parent and child and will have huge payoffs as children get older, especially when they become tweens and adolescents. Evidence-based programs also suggest that uninterrupted playtime can be beneficial for children who are struggling with behavioral issues and will reduce acting-out behaviors.

Special playtime provides parents with an opportunity to get to be a part of their children’s most intimate play, allows parents to learn about their children, and builds children’s social and emotional vocabulary.

Another critical benefit of special playtime is that it can generalize to other parts of your day. For example, children experience lots of different emotions and by discussing, noting, and naming them, children develop an awareness about their feelings that will extend to their outside world. These skills will carry over and create teachable moments that will help them learn to deal with frustration, fears, and boredom.

By entering your children’s play you will better understand your children as well as create a special memory that will impact their feelings about your relationship throughout development.

Below are some tips for special playtime which is a less structured version of Filial Therapy (another word for parent/child play):
• Make sure playtime is uninterrupted and scheduled.
• Dedicate twenty to thirty minutes a couple of times a week to special playtime.
• Allow your child to direct and be in charge of the play and set limits sparingly. Allow them to direct you. Try not to give advice or problem solve for your child.
• Comment on the emotions expressed during play. Make comments without judgment such as, “You are getting really frustrated,” “I notice you smiling, it looks like you are having fun,” “You keep trying even though it is really hard.”
• Focus on noticing your child’s body language and nonverbal messages.
• Create a play environment that is made up of imaginative toys such as blocks, dress ups, play food, and animals so that children use their imaginations.

While the child takes the lead in play, the parent remains in charge. It is important for parents to create structure by announcing the beginning of special playtime. Be sure to give a five and ten minute warning before playtime is over to help your child transition. It is normal for children to protest at the end. Use any protest they might show as an opportunity to talk about your child’s feelings, how much fun you had together, and when you will have your next “special time.”

Click here for more information about special playtime or Filial Therapy.

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