If you take the time to observe your children while they play this summer, you can actually learn a lot about where they are developmentally. Making these observations can help you to determine if your child’s social and emotional development is on track and where they have areas of weakness.
Depending on your child’s personality, the way that they play can tell you a lot about them. Now, if you structure their playtimes and control their interactions, all you’ll learn is how well children can take your directions. In order to really learn anything, your kids must be able to indulge in unstructured free play that they control.
What to Look For
There are certain behaviors you can look for while observing your child’s play that can provide you with some insight;
When you’re watching your child play with others, it can be tempting to want to intervene. This is especially true if you think that someone is being mean to your child or not giving them their fair share. It’s important to make sure that you’re looking at the whole picture. You may only be picking up on the tale end of a confrontation that, for all you know, was instigated by your own child or someone else. Try to get a feel for the whole story and wait a moment to allow the children the opportunity to work things out themselves. If you always swoop in and solve their problems for them, they won’t learn how to solve conflicts on their own.
What You Want Them to Learn
During their younger years, you primarily want your children to learn how to lead, when to follow, and how to solve problems and differences fairly. They need to be able to express their likes, dislikes, and desires with their words.
One way to help them learn these skills is by observing their playtime interactions and talking to your child about them afterwards. Ask them how their play date was and what could have made it better. Ask guiding questions to help them understand and articulate their feelings. Things like “How did that make you feel?” and “What would happen if…” can help your young child know what they feel, why, and how to exert control over situations they’re unhappy with.
If your child can learn these skills when they are young, they’ll have much better relationships when they’re older. The ability to self-advocate and deal respectfully with others will be invaluable to your children throughout adolescence and adulthood.