What is child-led play? Child-led play is letting the child lead in THEIR play. Simple question, simple answer, not so simple to do. Child-led play gives you the chance as a parent to connect with your child in a way that puts them in charge and let’s them express their own ideas. If we think of toys as children’s words and play is their language (thank you, Gary Landreth), joining them alongside their play rather than directing it gives them the opportunity to communicate with us in a totally different way.
“When you do for a child what they can do for themselves, you teach them they are incompetent.”Gary Landreth
To use an adult comparison, directing a child’s play is similar to giving someone directions on driving to Burger King and then someone else continually interrupting with their own directions going to Taco Bell. They are not communicating the same idea–at all! By hy-jacking a child’s play, as a parent, you are placing your own ideas onto them which crushes their own brilliant creativity and expression. It is not our place to tell a child the right and the wrong way to play—in doing so, we are only hindering their confidence in their own abilities. In a way, we are saying, “The way you are doing it is wrong, this is my way of doing it which is right.” Can you see how an adult communicating that on a regular basis to a child would be defeating?
Child-led play can be extremely empowering! To have an adult join you on the floor and show interest in what you’re doing?! How awesome is that! No instruction, no direction, no correcting (even when they are calling the toy bunny a dog), and accepting who they are, in that moment.
You’ve switched gears from, “You’re wrong, I’m right,” to “Tell me what you are thinking, let me learn from you, I appreciate who you are and what you are communicating to me right now.” Not giving direction, not instructing on how to build, just accepting and entering into the child’s world. This is a time to put cell phones away, turn the TV off, and invest in the relationship with your child. Send that message to them, “I enjoy YOU and YOU are the most important thing to me right now.”
5 Benefits of Child-led play:
1. Builds confidence, it puts the child in charge; having an adult/parent validate their thoughts gives a boost of healthy confidence and self-esteem.
2. Allows you to enter into your child’s world: they can show you what they want, without you giving direction or instructing them on the “correct” way to play.
3. Teaches them to rely on themselves rather than pleasing others. Through child-led play, they will learn the importance of being accepted by their own thoughts and ideas and feel validated for who they are as a person, they have a voice, and they matter.
4. Allows for self-led exploration and problem solving—it’s all about the process! Learning comes from a deeper place when it is experienced.
5. Strengthens parent-child bond through undivided attention and complete presence. This reiterates the idea in your child that they are valued, loved, and accepted for who they are.
You can’t go wrong! Start small, 10 minutes a day. Just take a breathe, slow-down and play!