We talk a lot about discipline and other positive parenting techniques here on the channel. Today, we're getting into the importance of playing with your child. Vicki, and I had a chance recently to visit with the Langley child care providers up in Langley British Columbia. It was a beautiful opportunity to connect with some really amazing people. Big shout out to you, Langley Community Services Society. Part of the topic that we got into was the importance of play.

Play is essential to a child's development. Matter of fact, I have this little quote I’m going to share. “Play is so important to children's development that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recognizes it as a basic right for every child.” A basic right to every child. Play is the work that children do. One of the major concerns of parents or child care providers is how to get the child to regulate his own behavior. We might not use those words but, “If he could just control or just stay focused. If he..” Now, executive functioning is the way that we learn how to control those behaviors and emotions. And the way for a child to develop executive functioning is through play. We are going to talk today about 4 types of play.

The first kind is child-initiated play. This is different from the kind of play where we are encouraging them to play in the way we want them to. We are imposing play on them. In order to be involved with child initiated play, we have to have access to different materials. So, give them lots of materials, toys, Legos, crafts. Different things that they can engage in play with their imaginations. I'm thinking of our little neighbor kids. Over the years as we've gotten to know them, they are so imaginative and their parents have been really good about doing just that. Providing them with opportunities and materials to be creative and to be innovative. And I think it's made a huge difference and as kids develop. Our daughter-in-law does the same thing. She always provides our grandkids with these great materials to imagine and play.

So, one of the first types of play we are going to talk about is exploratory. Now, this is where they are just playing with the materials to explore them. So, maybe they've got the paint all over their hands and they're just kind of playing with it or whatever. They explore the material to see how it works. Check it out. It's not necessarily paint in their mind. It's this stuff that they are interacting with. Now, we as parents, sometimes we get a little up-tight about… “Well, that's not the way you use paint.” That's not the purpose of exploratory play. It's for them to simply learn things about their world and the elements that are in it. And you are prepared for this. Put a smock on them or some clothes you don't care about. Put down tarps to lower your anxiety. Kids will do this with their food sometimes. Now, there are times and places for everything. But could there be a time or a place where the macaroni and cheese gets to go right on their head? Maybe. Let's just not be so rigid as parents that we stop that important developmental process of exploratory play.

After exploratory, we move into constructive play. And this is where they are actually going to use the materials to develop or create something. This is where they build the house or they make a telephone out of the wire and whatever materials they have. This is where imagination starts to kick in. In the constructive phase of play or the constructive type of play, they are now using the materials that you have made available to them to actually make something. And remember, we talked about the importance of play because this is how a child learns. We realize that especially in constructive play, they are going to plan something. Maybe the child decides they want to make a castle. You plan, you do. Then you review how it went. Maybe you find out, oh, the wall isn't quite big enough. It fell over before I wanted it to. So, you are going to review what happened. And this brings about learning at which point you start a new plan, another attempt. This is the cycle of learning. That helps to develop executive thinking.

The next play is imaginative, or pretend. They are going to pretend to be mommy at the grocery store, or you be the teacher and I'm going to be the student. I'm a fireman and I'm going to come and put out the fire. They use their imaginations to set up different scenarios, and play those through. This is one of the plays that I really get enthusiastic about, because I can see from a psychological perspective how this gives kids an opportunity to experiment with different potential outcomes or scenarios that they might encounter. And they get to manage that in a controlled play environment, it's imaginary. They can also face fears, all kinds. They also learn a lot of social behaviors because a lot of the times this brief play is happening with another child, it becomes more interactive.

Besides interactive and social situations, it can also teach them to take on perspective. The perspective of another person or of an outcome or an emotion. And that's something that you don't really get when playing with just a screen. You need materials. You have people exposure. This helps them to build empathy and start to interact with other people in healthy and constructive ways.

That leads to the other type of play which has to do with games. This is one that follows set rules. There is more structure to this play. It's not necessarily a game that you roll a dice. It could be balls that you bounce or hoops you jump through, but there are rules. The kids might make up their own rules. The might say, “We're going to play this. So, you guys have to go over here.” This is really important for kids to learn how to work within rules and how to play within rules. That also adds a social element because, sometimes kids want to make up their own rules and the other kids aren't quite down for that. It teaches them how to enroll people into the game. Or how to negotiate or how to come up with different alternatives to the original plan that they had. And it goes back to that learning cycle: Plan and then do. Get the feedback and do the review and then the learning takes place and you repeat the cycle.

Thank you for being a conscious, positive parent. We are thrilled to be part of your team. If you haven't yet, joined us in the Parenting Power-Up. Vicki and I have collaborated to put together a number of resources that I think you're going to be excited about. Go to www.drpauljenkins.com.