Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Just child’s play?

Many of children’s biggest dilemmas can be expressed and solved through play

Just child’s play?

How to deal with children properly can be many parents’ worst nightmare. Are you being too present, or not present enough? How can you help your children be the best versions of themselves?

Questions like these often linger at the back of any mother’s mind. As one of those mothers myself, I have come to realise that discipline sometimes needs to be disciplined and replaced with more fun techniques that can serve the same purpose.

As my son loves role-playing, instead of lingering on how heavy the costumes are and how odd they look outside Halloween I learned how to walk with pride with him on the streets while he was wearing his favourite Spider-Man costume. He became much happier and in fact less attached to the costumes that he can wear anytime he wants as a result.

The right to play is a fundamental children’s right, according to the UN children’s fund UNICEF. How playing can change the world of children and consequently shape their future is directly related towards the parental approach towards games and their importance.

At the first workshop of its kind in Cairo held at IKEA in collaboration with UNICEF’s global awareness campaign on children’s right to play, child psychologist Sherine Al-Rayess held a session recently attended by some 30 concerned parents and their children on the issue of children’s play.

What is the meaning of playing, she asked. “Playing is instinctive in children. God created this ability in children as a means to express their emotions, as they may be unable to convey their feelings through speech when they are young,” Al-Rayess explained. Play has a direct impact on the mental development of children. Longitudinal studies have confirmed that the size of the brain gets bigger more quickly when games and playing are encouraged, she said.

Playing is also just as important as sport and homework. Playing encourages social skills, since children are in direct contact with their peers and can interact and develop social skills. Children who are prevented from playing may develop physical ailments and a lack of creativity as a result, Al-Rayess noted.

Just child’s play?

“Playing is a language of its own, for through playing a child learns more about himself and you learn a lot about him too,” she added. One problem in Egypt is that because of the stress of everyday life parents may instead of playing with their children turn on the television and watch it together.

“This is not playing. This is watching television,” Al-Rayess said.

One solution could be a regular games night. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, and in fact games night can be every night. Thirty minutes a day of playing with your child can do the trick. But like in any game, there are rules. The most important thing is that your child leads the game, that he chooses it, and that you hear him out and play along with him according to his rules.

Such games are known as “undirected games”, and Al-Rayess urges parents not to switch to the role of the teacher and start imposing their ideas on the child playing the game. The idea is to let the child engage in role-play, expressing his school days and any problems he may be facing but cannot explain through play.

“A parent should always allow a child to lead the conversation and the game. So what if he chooses to make a car out of a tub or a road from plastic boxes? What’s important is that he understands that he must tidy up after he finishes playing because he needs to learn that tidying up is good for him to be able to find his toys again and not just to please you,” she said.

Consequences other than punishments are also important in the relationship parents have with children. It starts from understanding their behaviour to begin with. “When a child draws on the wall, it does not mean that he is naughty. It means that he needs more paper to draw on,” Al-Rayess said.

A second type of game is “directed play”. “These games teach children something. They are designed to encourage children to learn about letters and colours, or to talk about different emotions, and so on. Puppets can be the perfect method for teaching a child to express himself, for example,” Al-Rayess said.

Parents should not interrupt their children’s play. “Your children are like you – they do not like to be interrupted when they are playing. As a parent you should learn to control your wants as you do at work. Playing is all about imagination, and there is no need for expensive or numerous toys.

Often children who are underprivileged have an extraordinary imagination by which they can make cars out of the materials they find around them, for example,” she said.

Just child’s play?

Parents should also ask questions and listen to the answers. “There was once a child who wet his bed for no reason. He was asked to create a house from cardboard in a game. He put the beds in upside down, and when asked why it turned out that his elder siblings had told him that there were monsters under the bed, explaining why he was scared and wanted to put them in upside down,” Al-Rayess explained.

“Not enough play can make a child stubborn or hard-headed. But play can encourage bonding and can give a child a sense of security. A child is constantly being subjected to new things, and one way in which he can make sense of them is by playing.”

What about disciplining a child? Al-Rayess says this is something that must be done with care as it can cause him to fear his parents. If he is afraid of the dark, parents should explain that they were once afraid of darkness too. They should help him understand his fear, which is a way of overcoming it.

Boys should also not be sanctioned for crying. Everybody should be entitled to express emotions, Al-Rayess said, adding that being emotionless and cold can also be a problem.

There should be greater awareness of gender stereotypes. “When a boy hugs a doll and is mocked by others for doing so, it does not mean that he is adopting ‘girly’ behaviour. It means he is projecting the love he gets from his parents on the doll,” Al-Rayess said, and this should be encouraged.

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