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Let Them Play (and Get Out of the Way)!

Child-Directed Play

Child-Directed PlayWhen you’re a busy parent or caregiver with errands to run, mouths to feed, and work to do, allowing for time for play might seem pretty low on the priority list. In fact, these days play often has to be scheduled to ensure it happens. As someone who spends a good amount of my work day attempting to be fully present with others, it’s amazing to me how easy it is to get caught up in the daily whirlwind in my personal life. When I’m in a particularly aware space, I can catch myself turning every activity into a goal-directed one. Even play time with my kids can evolve into a very time-limited and rushed flurry of lego-building and board games. In those moments, I tend to do a lot of directing. It allows me to get onto my next to-do item, but these generally aren’t my shiniest parenting moments.

There’s a time and place for that sort of play. Structured and goal-directed play isn’t inherently bad. For example, competitive games, like Uno are loads of fun. Crafting with a specific “product” or goal in mind is also satisfying for many. But the play that this generation of kids is especially losing out on is the unstructured kind. The kind of play where a child gets to be spontaneous and creative, exploratory and in charge. The kind that occurs just for the sake of having fun with no planned product in mind except that of their own imagination. And trust me when I say that losing unstructured child-directed play is a big problem. Our over-scheduled kids are on the front lines of a nationwide anxiety epidemic, while child-directed play has so many critical benefits (motor skills/coordination, self concept, and social skills, to name just a few).

Assume you’re being invited in and that you’re making an effort to create space for non-competitive, non-directive play, here’s a few tips to get you started:

Three Tips for Getting Out of the Way of a Kid’s Play

  1. Pretend You’re a (Play) House Guest. When you’re a new guest in someone else’s house, you don’t just bulldoze your way through a visit. Instead, you would typically use your best manners, observe whether others take off their shoes at the door, politely ask for a drink of water if it’s not offered, etc. Think of yourself as a guest in your child’s play. Don’t just help yourself to what’s in the fridge. Ask how they want you to play if they don’t tell you first. Better yet, observe them in their play for a bit before getting involved.
  2. Allow for Repetitive Play. Look… if you’re going to be a good playmate, you simply have to stop putting a kibosh on kiddo playing out the same thing over and over. Do you remember when your four-year-old requested that you read the story of “The Little Red Hen” again? For the six bazillionth time in a week? That’s developmentally appropriate for young children. Personally, I conceptualize that sort of repetitive play as an attempt at mastery– a signal to me that I ought to stay out of the way until they’ve resolved the issue. It’s tempting to insist on something different because YOU are getting bored of it. Ultimately though, if you let your child engage in that repetitive play enough, she’s likely to move on eventually.
  3. Get Over your Savior Complex. Many in our culture have misinterpreted boredom as signaling something negative is happening— that our child needs more activities, more things to accomplish. But let me clear up that confusion. Being bored is OK. Some even tout it as a gift. From boredom comes the best kind of creativity and spontaneity. Please stop rescuing your child each time he or she complains of boredom. Instead, say “Huh. I wonder what you’ll do about that?” Expect a bit of resistance if your child isn’t used to that sort of response. I can almost guarantee though that if you suggest a chore as an activity, they’ll find their own boredom solution.

Sometimes having a designated time and space for play can be the best answer to getting into a play rhythm. While there’s lots of options, some of our favorites are right here in house:

REGISTER NOW: Friday Night Family Yoga at Intuition Wellness Center.

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written By: Brandy Baker, PsyD; Co-Founder; Clinical Psychologist

 

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Psychological Hygiene: Here’s what the doctor ordered…

The last time you went to the dentist and she reminded you to floss more regularly, maybe you nodded or giggled nervously, but certainly you didn’t walk out of her office thinking, “What a ridiculous suggestion!” You accepted it as a reasonable recommendation. And when you told yourself, “Self, it’s time to take better care of your teeth,” I doubt that your next thought was, “Gee, I’m so selfish and overindulgent.” Perhaps it’s because an expert told you to do it or perhaps it’s because it’s widely accepted in our culture that flossing is part of a solid oral hygiene routine, but for whatever reason you knew it was the right thing to do.

I’m making no judgments about whether you kept up your oral hygiene commitment. I am, however, making a judgment about our society’s lack of attention to the importance of psychological hygiene– the things that we do (or should be doing) on a regular basis to maintain good mental health. As a society, we seem to be a bit slower to jump on that bandwagon though there are some pretty clear reasons why to pursue it further. Intrigued? Good.

6 things to pay attention to right now for better psychological hygiene:

  • Mindfulness. This is about being in the present moment– the right now– with intention and without judgment. With the fast-paced chaos many of us currently live in, a mindfulness practice is becoming more important than ever. Greater Good in Action and Mindful.org are two great resources for lots of easy activities.
  • Exercise. Admittedly, most of us probably know that exercise is important to our wellbeing, but not everyone knows about all of the psychological benefits. Specifically, that exercise is also effective at treating psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.  Pair up exercise with mindfulness and you’ve got an especially winning combination that recent research suggests can ward off and greatly relieve depressive symptoms.
  • Sleep. Unhealthy sleep patterns may increase the risk of mental illness and lead to problems with emotional regulation, memory,  and immune functioning. Some great resources for helping a child sleep include the American Academy of Pediatric’s sleep tips as well as our very own handout on getting a good night’s rest.
  • Nutrition. For so many reasons, good nutrition is important to our overall health and we are learning more and more about this every day. It’s far too complicated to get into a detailed analysis of all of the ways that nutrition link to emotional wellbeing, but I’ll offer a few examples. Perhaps most intuitive is the fact that sugar affects mood and may even be contributing to depression and anxiety. We also now know that gut health is directly linked to emotional health. There are also many things that are being added to food and coming into contact with items we ingest (such as the teflon on our pans) that are considered toxins for the brain, particularly in children and have been linked to a variety of behavioral and emotional health problems such as aggression, ADHD, Autism, and other neurodevelopmental issues.
  • Social Support. Hands down, social support is the most important buffering factor in times of stress, adversity and trauma. There are a series of fantastic long-term studies on this topic, which suggest that, for a child, the perception of having at least one invested adult is a significant protective factor.
  • Play. Well, of course! In this wildly hectic world, adults and children alike are becoming workaholics and achievement addicts. It’s not that we can’t get enjoyment from work or school, but certainly a healthy balance is necessary. With the positive psychology movement, we’ve now learned about the importance of awe and the concept of flow, which are sometimes nice benefits of play.

Did you know that first aid for mental health also exists? Yup. It’s a real thing. It’s what you should do if you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis or a metaphorical emotional bruise, scrape or cut. I’d encourage you to read about it also.

Subscribe to our Newsletter for service and general practice updates or pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff.

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by: Brandy Baker, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist

Image by Yann (talk) – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7866365

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Parenting Tip: Traditions & Predicability

640px-Family_jumpWith the holidays right around the corner, I wanted to bring up the importance of having predicable family traditions. If you’re like most parents, you are busy working, keeping up your home, and chauffeuring your kids to and from school and extracurricular activities. It’s no wonder that busy schedules often leave parents with little to no time to have dates with each other or play games with their kids. As a result, I find myself suggesting to most families who I work with to create traditions, such as “game night” and make them predicable by scheduling them and making those times sacred. It is a no brainer that spending more quality time with your partner and kids will have a positive impact on your relationships. Below are a few tips to help you create some traditions.

  • Make it a family decision by asking your partner or kids what they want to do. In other words, don’t just do what you want, instead include the family in the decision making so everyone looks forward to family time.
  • Put it on the calendar and make it recurring regardless if it is annually, monthly, or weekly. Unfortunately with busy schedules, if it’s not on the calendar, it’s unlikely to happen.
  • Agree to make the tradition sacred and do not schedule other events during those times. This means learning to do a few things such as getting into the habit of checking your calendar before scheduling new events and learning how to say no.

Here are some ideas for traditions:

  • Date night with your partner that includes dinner and a fun activity such as mini golf, bowling, movie theatre, ballet, comedy club, or festival.
  • Game night with your  partner and kids.
  • Craft night with your kids.
  • Have an overnight camping trip.
  • Go fishing.
  • Cook dinner together.
  • Take a vacation.
  • Take a weekly hike on your favorite trail.
  • Go to church, temple, synagogue, etc.

Finally, just have fun with it and reap the rewards of joy that comes with spending quality time with your kids.

Subscribe to our wellness blog for more tips (see the far right column of this page or the bottom of the page if you’re using your mobile phone) or pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff.

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, teens, and families. We have clinicians who specialize in working with families overcoming challenging patterns. If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from our services, we are here to help. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by Yoendry Torres, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

Image credit: “Family jump” by Evil Erin – http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3565026821/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Family_jump.jpg#/media/File:Family_jump.jpg

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