You’re probably asking, “How in the world can play be discipline? It seems like the opposite of what we traditionally think of as discipline.” However, when we reevaluate the TRU definition of discipline to teach, we can find proactive, positive opportunities everywhere to teach. There is no better, more receptive time to teach a child than during play!
Parents are always looking for new ways to change or improve their kids’ behavior. We try timeouts, charts, rewards, and so on, with varying degrees of success. Every child is a little different. They come with different personalities and temperaments, and certain disciplines work better with some than others.
When I teach parenting classes, most parents come looking for specific disciplinary techniques to stop bad behavior they’re dealing with at home. Many parents are surprised when I start out discussing something that seems very different from traditional discipline, but is one of the greatest and most natural teaching tools we have: play.
Play is not just fun, its communication.
Play is the language of children. Kids use play to create and understand social boundaries. They explore and discover real-life roles and responsibilities. Play enhances emotional intelligence as well as cognitive intelligence. Countless studies substantiate play as a connecting, relationship building, emotional, moral and cognitive educational tool.
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In a recent Huff Post Parents article by my friend Katie Hurley, she said, “Play is the most natural learning style for children. They learn from play from the very first moment they shove wooden blocks into their mouths and they continue to learn through more advanced play as they grow.” For children, play is one of the greatest avenues for learning and creating greater self-discipline.
My sons love Legos. When I feel like my boys are getting a little defiant and things are getting tough around the house, I find that I haven’t been building enough miniature ninjas or castles made of bricks. Play is so much more than just fun!
5 ways to make utilize play to promote and teach healthy behavioral and relational cycles:
- Approach them on their level. Play builds trust, respect, understanding, and a reference for later correction and discipline. When we play with our kids we get to act out life situations and model values, boundaries and healthy skills without being condescending or threatening. Play allows us to teach cause and effect as well as rules and appropriate behavior.
- Imagine the possibilities. Play expands creativity, dreams, and goal driven behavior. Imaginative play opens a whole world of choices and possibilities to kids and challenges them to pursue great things even when the rest of the world says, “You can’t.”
- Just connect. Again, play is fun. When we are happy, we connect. Kids need to know you care about them and about what they care about.
- Understand them and what they need. Play is a glimpse into the head and heart of our children. It’s amazing to watch a child play and to join with them in their play. It’s incredible what we can learn about them, what makes them happy, what bothers them. Themes, feelings, and actions that they can’t quite verbalize flow from them when they play. If we devote just a few minutes a day to engaging in this wonderful forum of communication, we’ll find new ways to interact and work with our children that we never thought of before.
- Model positive social behavior and teach new ways of dealing with real problems.
Play, especially imaginative and role play lend opportunities to display good manners, polite words, sharing, honesty, kindness and compassion. It allows us to play through scenarios that happen at home, at school or anywhere we can dream up and teach skills in an environment that is non-threatening and natural. Play through scenarios that resemble real life struggles you have noticed in your child’s life and teach them alternative ways of dealing with those problems.
Play therapy is one of the most effective therapeutic techniques for improving child expression. It helps kids to cope with, and solve, problems. Parents can act as preventative therapists by simply devoting a little time to playing. Play is a universal language that speaks love, kindness, and understanding. When we have those things, great things follow!
Question: Do you have any games or activities that have helped you teach your children or resolve ongoing conflicts in positive ways?
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