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Thursday, May 9th, 2013
We all know that it is critical for kids of all ages to play. And we know that play can take many forms. But there’s a deeper idea about the importance for kids to learn how to be playful – and how that spirit should permeate their development.
Such is the advice given by Steve Gross, Executive Director – and Chief Playmaker – of The Life is good Playmakers, the action arm of The Life is good Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Life is good to raise money to help kids in need. Life is good is a company with a positive purpose and is committed to spreading the power of optimism and donating 10% of its net profits to helping kids in need through The Life is good Kids Foundation.
Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker, Life is good Playmakers
The Life is good Kids Foundation directly funds the Life is good Playmakers program. The Life is good Playmakers provide training and support to childcare professionals, who use these tools to ensure that children grow up feeling safe, loved and joyful.
Steve certainly champions the essential nature of play in a kid’s life (“Children need food and water to survive, but to truly live, they’ve gotta play”). But he points out that we often get the message that play happens in a designated time and space and includes specific activities – which means much of the time we don’t harness the power of playfulness in the majority of moments in a kid’s everyday life. He suggests that we want kids to develop the trait of playfulness as a style they bring to everything they do. Steve defines playfulness as “the motivation to freely and joyfully engage with, connect with, and explore the surrounding world.” It’s an attitude, and a style, that provides a cognitive and emotional platform for kids to embrace themselves and fuel for them to bring themselves to the world in a positive way.
Four ingredients make up Steve’s recipe for playfulness:
AFFECT: Kids need to experience joyfulness in their everyday moments – not just the time that’s “reserved” for play. Most of the opportunities for “play” happen in real time. Steve gives a wonderful example of how getting a kid ready to go to play is an ideal time to promote joyfulness – and also a moment that often turns in the other direction for parents. Rather than getting stressed about making sure a toddler has their shoes on and their coat ready, how about treating THAT time as the time to get silly and experience joy and anticipation. It may be even more fun than when you actually get outside to “play.” It’s these little moments that define the affective climate for a child – and bringing anticipation, lightness, joy, and overt silliness to the everyday tasks infuses a kid with a playful spirit that makes most of the day feel like play rather than the other way around.
SOCIAL CONNECTION: Interacting with people is play. It’s as important – if not more important – that your kid is looking at you and seeing you laugh and smile and express joy when you are playing than being engaged in the play itself. Think about all the moments you have to simply talk to your kid – especially babies and toddlers. Don’t underestimate how fun and rewarding (at a very deep level) it is for your kid to explore your face and your emotions and your tone of voice. It’s a constant stream of engaging content for them that they could never find in a toy or a device. So Steve proposes that treating the everyday interaction moments as opportunities to cultivate joyfulness helps a kid discover the power of social connection.
INTERNAL CONTROL: Steve suggests that kids need to feel like they are in control of themselves, and that the world is a safe place for them. They need to feel like they can explore without fear of bad consequences. Sure, you need to keep your kid safe. But a constant stream of “No No No” communicates two things to a little one: the world isn’t safe to explore, and your little one is not competent enough to explore it. One of the tricks of the trade is to practice redirection: rather than saying “Don’t do that!” focus on saying, “Do this instead!” Cultivate the curiosity and direct it in a safe way. That way, you are following Steve’s advice by showing your kid how to explore the world in a safe manner and you are making them feel like they can – and should – follow their instincts to do that.
ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT: One of the wonderful deliverables of playfulness is the ability to be focused and get in the flow of an activity – whatever that activity happens to be. Steve’s conception of active engagement is a core part of what we think of as creativity. Kids need to get lost in the moment, block out everything else, and just follow where the experience takes them. As Steve points out, this doesn’t just happen during what we think of as “play” (although those are of course opportune times to witness this). For younger kids, it can be looking at rocks, following a bug, watching mom put on lipstick, or playing with a zipper on a pocketbook. For older kids, “play” can involve math, English, science, music – whatever turns them on. This all goes to Steve’s overriding message – it’s all about kids bringing a sense of playfulness to everything they do.
In the busy world we live in, we often think it is difficult to find time to play with our kids and give our kids opportunities to play. But if we embrace the philosophy of Steve Gross – Executive Director AND Chief Playmaker of the Life is good Playmakers– we see that we actually have more than enough time to infuse our kids with a sense of playfulness, and a trait that will serve them well for their entire lifetime.
Steve in Haiti
Images courtesy of Life is good
Categories: Behavior, Health, Intervention, Must Read, Parenting, Questions, Red-Hot Parenting, Relationships | Tags: Childhood Play, Haiti, Health, Kids Health, Life is good, Life is good Foundation, Life is good Playmakers, play, playfulness
Thursday, February 28th, 2013
February 2013 was a busy month in the world of parenting – lots of things going on. Here’s a snapshot:
The news that an adult male slapped a stranger’s toddler on a plane led to a conversation about how our culture may be breeding, at a minimum, a lack of respect for our youngsters – and at worst, provide a context in which child-hating is tolerated.
Speaking of conversations, we had many about if we should use what we are learning about genetics to support genetic engineering, including targeting childhood psychiatric disorders. Then came news that new research suggests some genes might predispose to a number of forms of mental illness – but it’s not at all clear that this will move us closer to genetic solutions.
We always include applications of current research to help guide us decide on good parenting strategies. One study suggest how important it is to let your toddler – and not you – be the “boss” when you are playing. And compelling research showed how the simple act of turning off violent shows and replacing them with educational content – without limiting the amount of TV watched – is beneficial for kids.
BARRIERS TO SERVICES
We took on some key barriers to getting kids mental health services and broke them down in understandable turns. Now we all wait to see if sequestration is going to provide the biggest barrier of all.
Time For Review via Shutterstock.com
Categories: Behavior, Genetics, Health, Intervention, Must Read, Parenting, Pregnancy, Questions, Red-Hot Parenting, Relationships, Stories | Tags: educational TV, genes, Health, Kids Health, Mental Health, Parenting, play, Red-Hot Parenting, Review, Sequestration, TV, Violence
Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
Parents need to play with their kids – but they shouldn’t be too bossy when doing so. Such is the conclusion of a new report published in Parenting: Science and Practice.
This study videotaped mom/kid dyads while they were playing, and coded the mom’s “directiveness” – the use of commands, requests, or more simply, telling a kid what to do. They also examined how kids react to directiveness, in terms of negative behavior and their level of engagement with their mom. This method was used over time, going from age 1 through age 5.
The results were clear-cut: the more bossy a mom is, the more negative a kid becomes, and the less engaged in play. This is especially the case if the mom is also negative (facial expression, tone of voice) – it comes across as critical and inhibits, rather than inspires, kids’ play.
So what is the optimal way to play with your child? Let them take the lead. Let them follow their imagination. Build on what they do. Don’t feel the need to tell them that there is a “right” way to play with a toy or where their play stories should go. Replace “How about doing this?” with doing what they are saying. Go with their flow! Of course, if they need help with something, or they do something that could be dangerous, you step in. But overall, they are the boss of their play – and you should be a willing and fun participant.
There is a bigger take-home message here. For some parents, negative emotions creep into every aspect of a child’s life – including play. Some parents can fall into the trap of being controlling and critical, even during playtime. This can have a very strong impact on kids by undermining their self-esteem, and inhibiting what should be their creative time. It can also form the roots of depression in a kid. You may think you are doing your job by telling your child what to do – but if this is happening during play, you are letting the air out of their balloon. Conversely, by letting your kid take the lead, you will find yourself caught up in their joy and re-experience why play is such a magical part of a young kid’s life.
Mom and Child Playing via Shutterstock.com
Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
No, it’s not essential … but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing for toddlers.
Think about it this way. Here’s a short list of things that should be part of a toddler’s life:
Opportunities to Play: Play is a broad concept. Toddlers need time to play alone, and also play with other kids. They need to manipulate things to develop their fine motor skills. Being very inclusive here, we can extend this perspective to activities like drawing – which is known to support the later development of cognitive skills. They need to run around and be active. Pretend play is often thought to be at the root of creativity, but recent research shows that it has a large social benefit when done with others.
Opportunities to Socialize: Toddlers need to be around other kids. It’s fun for them. It’s a way to start to learn how to be social creatures and function with peers. They also learn a lot when they disagree with each other, when they don’t share, and when they don’t get along (as long as there is proper guidance from adults). They learn that they are not the only person in the world and sometimes need to take turns – which means waiting their turn now and then.
Opportunities to Regulate Their Emotions: Toddlers have to continue learning how to regulate their emotions. Whether it’s a full blown tantrum or just handling being mad or angry or scared, kids have to experience their emotions in multiple social contexts and develop ways of regulating themselves and functioning around others.
Opportunities to Talk: Yes, talk. Kids can develop their language by being around different people – it helps them learn how to use language to communicate socially (which requires integrating behavioral and emotional and cognitive skills). They should also hear a lot of talking.
If you consider this list, you have a sense of the richness that should characterize a toddler’s life. It’s another way of saying that lots of experiences are needed to give a well-rounded platform for social, emotional, cognitive, and language development. Notice I haven’t said anything about getting a leg up academically, or ensuring top grades later in school. I’m talking about fundamental developmental goals. And kids need to have fun. A lot of fun. A lot of the time.
Now, a toddler doesn’t need to go to preschool to achieve all this. If a preschool isn’t focused on the developmental tasks that characterize toddlerhood, then there is not much utility to it. But a great preschool is a great way to give your kid opportunities during the week to be around other adults and other kids. It’s not essential. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good if you choose to go that way and you find the preschool that delivers what you should be looking for.
Preschool Children via Shutterstock.com
Categories: Behavior, Health, Must Read, Parenting, Questions, Red-Hot Parenting | Tags: Emotion Regulation, Health, Kids Health, play, preschool, Talk, toddlers
Monday, December 31st, 2012
In lieu of a review of the past month, I’d like to pose a question: What will be the big topics on child health and development in the coming year? Kara Corridan and I have taken a stab at predicting what these will be. We selected 6 topics:
The Book That Will Change How Mental Disorders Are Diagnosed: Why you should know what the DSM-5 is and the hot-button issues it is raising
Kids And Play: New data and new thinking which suggests that kids are not getting enough of the right type of play
Pregnancy Health Risks: The emerging, and murky, data on potential prenatal risks and the complex decisions some pregnant women face
Injuries (The Downside Of Physical Activity): The realization that many youth are getting injured – some seriously – at an alarming rate
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The very real consequences to kids when they are exposed to a number of traumas
Obesity: New efforts to combat this epidemic in kids
Click here to read our take on these topics. Since we published this, we have all been affected, in lasting ways, by the Sandy Hook shooting. So in addition to the above, I also anticipate much more debate and discussion about the 4 public health issues raised by that tragedy.
The one thing we know for sure is that 2013 will be a very important year for continuing our collective conversation about child health and development. Wishing you all a peaceful and good New Year.
2013 Calendar via Shutterstock.com
Categories: Behavior, Health, Must Read, Parenting, Questions, Red-Hot Parenting, Stories | Tags: DSM 5, Health, Kids Health, Kids Sport Injuries, obesity, play, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sandy Hook Shooting, Top Kid Health Stories 2013