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The Do’s and Don’ts of Play: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Develop Better Peer Interactions

Imagine that you go to work in the morning and spend your entire day not knowing how to navigate thePlay Skills parameters of your workplace. You’re unsure of your job description, title, and workplace culture….and no one will give you any answers. By the end of the day, you feel utterly exhausted merely as a result of attempting to navigate a world with no structure or boundaries. Now, imagine you’re a child.  This is how children with limited play skills might feel as they are expected to respond to situations for which they don’t have the skillset each time they come in contact with a peer.

Play is the single most important mechanism children utilize to learn about their universe.  Play provides a framework to explain imaginative and real events in a child’s world. It allows them to learn about independence, manners, and character, as well as build confidence and practice new skills. Yet, some children have difficulty learning how to properly navigate these interactions.

The good news? You can help.

Play at Any Age

Play skills are developed in a progression.  Although there are times in which a child may fluctuate between all levels of play, the following indicates the age-appropriate development of peer interactions.

Solitary play (ages 0-2): Child is completely captivated with play and does not seem to notice other children.

  • Learns through trial and error
  • Copies other children and adults
  • Looks at other children playing but does not join in the play
  • Likes playing with adults as well as by himself/herself

Onlooker play (2-2 ½): Child is interested in other children’s play but does not join in. He/she may ask questions.

Parallel play (2 ½- 3):   Child shares the same space with peers but doesn’t actively engage with them.

  • Begins to use symbols in his play, such as using a stick as a sword
  • Starts to show some reasoning skills… may still learn by trial and error.
  • Copies other children and adults’ behaviors and language

Associative play (3-4): Child is interested in pursuing social interactions with peers while they play.

  • Shows more reasoning skills
  • Begins to ask “why” and “how” questions
  • Plays imaginatively, for instance, dress-up

Cooperative play (4+): Children play in groups of two or more with a common goal in mind; they often adopt roles and act as a group.

  • Shows understanding and uses reason related to experience
  • Begins to understand simple rules in games
  • Plays cooperatively, taking turns

Should I Be Concerned About My Child’s Play Skills?

Typical play:

  • Spontaneous
  • Flexible: child can add onto others’ play schemas*, play story** can change throughout, child does not become distraught if a peer/parent adds their ideas
  • Creative
  • Voluntary
  • Internally Reinforcing
  • Functional
  • Age-Appropriate

Atypical or Disordered Play:

  • Ritualistic: child engages with toy in the same order/manner, every time he/she plays with toy
  • Difficulty with Generalizations: child has difficulty accepting new patterns or rules, attempts to utilize one general rule for all similar events (i.e. “I know the youngest person goes first in Sorry, so I expect that the youngest person goes first in all games.”)
  • Non-functional
  • Repetitive: child performs the same action repetitively with a toy that doesn’t suit its purpose, ie. flipping, stacking, ordering items or repeats the same phrase over & over again while engaging
  • Limited Interests: child frequently finds a way to steer play story to a few favorite interests
  • Rigid: may accept when parents and peers join his/her play schema, but only by child’s rules and with his/her interests
  • Difficulty “bouncing back” from unexpected events in play: may recoil when a peer introduces a dinosaur, for example, when child expected story to progress in a certain direction. May become upset at changes or quit altogether
  • Avoids eye contact, or eye contact may be fleeting
  • Often requires prompting for basic communication, i.e. saying hello when approached by peer
  • Often includes non-reciprocal language: response frequently does not match question
  • Difficult for child to enter into an already-developed play scheme: two peers are pretending to be firemen, third child wants to join but can only talk about/pretend to be a doctor

*Play schema: diagrammatic presentation; a structured framework or plan 

**Play story: the story that is told through the play schema

Parent How-To Guide

If your child has underdeveloped play skills, here are some ways to assist in his/her development to encourage parallel, associative, and cooperative play:

  1. Provide Opportunities
  • Allow your child time for free play with same-aged peers
    • Don’t “helicopter” parent during free play, but provide modeling if necessary
    • Provide plenty of materials to encourage imaginary play, i.e. dress-up clothes, pretend food, cash register
    • Encourage symbolic play: child engages in imaginary play with an item and calls it something else, i.e. uses a banana as a telephone
  1. Model Feelings & Behavior to Encourage Problem-Solving
  • Provide your child with words to explain feelings
    • “Jimmy, it looks like you’re sad because Sally isn’t sharing her toy with you. Let’s tell Sally how you’re feeling together.”
    • If your child is old enough, encourage him to use the words himself. “Jimmy, you can say, ‘Sally, I am sad because I want to play with that toy too.’”
    • Starting your modeling sentences with the phrase “you can say…” is a very powerful way to neutrally provide your child with the words he/she may not know how to express
  • Provide your child with options for independent problem-solving
    • “Jimmy, do you want to wait until Sally is done with the toy or ask her if she can share it with you?”
    • This allows the child to choose between 2 options and learn to find solutions independently
  1. Set Expectations. Especially if your child demonstrates rigid behavior!
  • Be sure to set expectations before engaging in task
    • “Jimmy, we are going to the playground. At the playground, I expect you to play properly with friends. That means sharing the equipment, speaking nicely, and waiting your turn.”
  1. Give Positive Reinforcement
  • Encourage proper behavior and play skills by offering both natural consequences and praise.
    • Consequence, stated before engaging in task: “Jimmy, if you don’t follow the rules we discussed at the playground, we will need to go home immediately.”
    • Praise, stated after task is completed: “Jimmy, way to go! You followed all the rules by taking your turn and speaking nicely to your new friends. I’m proud of you.”

Seek Outside Help

If your child doesn’t seem to improve with these at-home tips, seek the assistance of an occupational or developmental therapist for hands-on support for both you and your child.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

References:

  • Parten, M. (1933). Social play among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28, 136-147.
  • http://www.child-development-guide.com/stages-of-play-during-child-development.html
  • http://brighttots.com/teaching_playskills.html
  • http://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Teaching-Play-Skills.pdf
  • http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl2/

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Stay Motivated in Therapy

How to Keep a Child Motivated in Therapy

Motivation is a state that energizes, directs and sustains behavior and a key component to success in therapy.

The following are some strategies to help motivate clients in therapy:

Make learning fun. Making learning fun for a child increases his or her drive to participate in treatment tasks and, ultimately, to reach treatment goals. You can bring the fun factor in a variety of ways, including: make learning into a game, create hands on activities to target goals, and incorporate technology. Knowing a child’s individual interests and needs is crucial when determining how to makeHow to Keep Your Child Motivated In Therapy learning fun. High interest activities are more likely to increase engagement and effort; however, the activities you use must be driven toward a particular goal and meet the level of support required by the child to learn whatever skill you are targeting.

Use cooperation. Cooperation is working together to accomplish a shared goal. Research on learning shows that cooperation promotes student motivation, problem solving skills, higher-processing skills, self-esteem, and positive teacher-student relationships. Therefore, activities completed in small groups of children – or as a client-therapist team – most effectively foster motivation. So, engage in the same activity as your client and brainstorm, create, and collaborate on projects as an equal contributor.

Give praise. Praising hard work and perseverance, even if the child’s goal has not been met, increases his or her motivation to continue putting in work and effort to achieve goals. For more tips on how to praise effectively, see 5 Tips to Praise Your Child the Right Way.

Give feedback. Feedback is necessary to learning and has been shown to motivate learning. While positive feedback helps increase learner effort, as it draws attention to what the learner is doing correctly and fosters a positive association with the learning process. Therefore, initial feedback should draw attention to what your client is doing right or well – point out effective learning behaviors. After that, corrective feedback should focus on ineffective strategies that a student is using and error patterns (rather than specific errors). Choose one type of error to correct rather than all errors and be sure to provide examples and models.

Educate parents and keep them involved. Tell parents how to reinforce skills at home through practice and praise. Consistency across environments, paired with encouragement during the learning process, motivates the child to practice and apply skills outside of treatment.

Make learning applicable to everyday life. Choosing activities that are applicable to the child helps not only provides them with more opportunities to practice a particular skill, it helps him/her understand why he/she is learning it. This increases motivation by making a direct connection between treatment and real life. If a child does not understand why he/she is learning something, he/she will not be motivated to pursue the intended lesson.

Communicate specific treatment goals. Communicate one or two goals that the child is working toward so he/she understand what he is working toward. Create a visual representation of the child’s progress (e.g., check off short term goals leading to the end goal, make a graph to show accuracy of responses across sessions to track progress over time). It is motivating for a child to understand what she is working toward, the steps needed to get there, and to see the progress that results from practice.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How to Maximize a Playdate for a Child with Speech Delays | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s webisode, a pediatric speech pathologist explains ways to help a child with speech delays play well with others. She provides useful strategies to encourage communications and respect between the children. For speech game ideas read our blog “5 Board Games That Promote Speech-Language Skills

  • The right timing for a playdate
  • How to introduce a speech delayed child to a regular child
  • What signs to look out for as the playdate progresses

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s
Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn
Ackerman, and I’m standing here today with Megan Grant, a Pediatric Speech
and Language Pathologist. Megan, can you give our viewers some tips on how
to maximize a play date with a child with delayed speech?

Megan: Sure. A play date for a child with delayed speech and language
skills isn’t going to look that much different than that of a play date for
a child with typically developing skills. However, there are some key
things to keep in mind. Make sure that you time it right. Make sure that
the play date is scheduled after naptime and after mealtime, so that the
kids are well rested, their bellies are fully and they are ready to play
and interact with each other.

Also you want to make sure to keep it brief. Sometimes, 45 minutes to an
hour is only what the kids will tolerate in the beginning, so don’t worry
that the play date should be three or four hours at a time. You definitely
need to make sure that you keep it short, especially in the beginning. Kids
will work up that way. Also, introduce a friend who’s familiar to your
child. That’s definitely going to be a key as well. Someone who is from
music class or from school is going to be more accustomed to interacting
with your child, and your child is likely going to be able to interact with
them much better than if you introduce someone who is entirely new to them.

When you do have a child who has delayed speech and language, you can pre-
teach the other child and say, “You know, Billy’s still learning how to
talk.” And let them know that that’s OK. Sometimes, kids are very
receptive and they pick up very easily on the nuances of other children, so
that’s definitely going to help as well. Keep in mind that you are going to
have to provide models, more so than with kids who are typically
developing. Kids who have delayed speech and language aren’t necessarily
going to initiate and maintain play as easily, so you’re going to have to
jump in there and let them resolve some conflicts, but definitely give them
the support that they’re going to need. And just have fun. Watch for signs
of frustration. If your child starts to break down, you definitely want to
jump in there and you can feel free to end the play date sooner than later.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much, Megan, and thank you to our
viewers. And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.