submitted by Tracy Gale, PsyD, HSPP, and Emmaleigh Badeaux, MA, LMHC, Easterseals Crossroads
During this time of social distancing, have you found yourself missing play dates? Our children are missing them, too! Here are some strategies to satisfy their social cravings while also increasing their social skills:
- Be intentional about playing with your child. Remove technology from the area, gather two or three creative toys, such as blocks, crayons, or a farm set, and play with your child. Toys without instructions allow your child to use imagination, engage with others in the play, and turn the play into whatever they want it to be! Allow your child to lead the play and follow along with their play.
- Imitate your child’s play. If your child is drawing sea creatures, draw a whale. If she says that she is building a house out of blocks, build her a neighbor. By imitating your child’s play and language, we are playing at their developmental level and creating a social interaction that is similar to what they would be experiencing with peers.
- Be a social coach, not a social dictator. As your child is playing, guide them through interactions. If one child wants to play with the toy that their sister is holding, you may say, “It looks like your sister wants to play with the horse. I wonder if you could trade her the horse for the cow?” Provide enough help for them to appropriately maneuver the situation, while not taking over the interaction.
- Provide specific and labeled praise for appropriate behaviors, such as sharing, taking turns, letting you add to their ideas, and sitting calmly on the floor. Praising your child makes them more likely to engage in that behavior again!
Most importantly, have fun! When we are fully engaged in play with our children, it can provide us with a much-needed break from daily stresses. Focus on playing, being silly, and being present for your child. This will help your child get the social interaction they are craving while also encouraging their social development.