Helping your child learn to play


Brenda McCreight
Focus on Adoption magazine

Play is an important skill for your child to develop and a difficult skill for older children to master. You may need to take an active role in teaching your child to play.
The following tips will help:

  • Don’t take broken or rejected toys as a sign that he is rejecting you. He may break toys so that he doesn’t get attached to them or because that’s all he’s ever known to do with toys. He may not understand how to use them and becomes frustrated because they are too difficult for him. Some toys he may reject as too babyish, because he is embarrassed that he doesn’t know what to do with them. Other toys may be associated with a bad or painful memory. It is unlikely that you will ever know exactly why your child is breaking or rejecting toys. It’s not a rejection of you: it’s simply a result of deprivation.

  • Buy toys that are suitable for a variety of ages. Your child will likely want to play with toys that are more appropriate for a much younger child. This is normal and is important because it helps the child to “grow up” through play.

  • Play little-child games with your child. The standard games that use body language along with words are excellent for helping your child leam to interact with others while playing. Games such as “Ring Around the Rosie” and songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” will help with this. Try these even if the child is a teen. You can do them in a silly, playful manner so the child or teen doesn’t feel like a “baby,” but rather sees the game as a means for the two of you to joke around and have fun together.

  • Teach your child how to play with toys you buy. When you give your child a new toy, sit down with him and help him put it together, or help him figure out how to play with it. Show your daughter how to change the clothes on her doll, or show your son how to use the action figures. Play simple board games with her and gradually increase the complexity and age level needed to play the game. This will reinforce her academic skills and give you more ways to be together.

  • Play with your child in the house. Make tent cities with her in the living room. Have a pillow fight night, or play board games and card games that help her to expand her concentration and attention span.

  • Play with your child outside. Climb a tree with her at the park, swing on a swing, play tag in the backyard, go skating, or play water volley ball at the local pool. These activities let her learn to use her large muscles for play and give the two of you opportunities to bond.

  • Don’t give her too many toys at once. Have a few basic toys for when she moves in, then add to them over the next few months. This will keep her from getting overwhelmed and will keep you from getting mad if she only breaks a few rather than several hundred dollars’ worth in a week.

  • Buy toys for both genders. They may be “all girl” or “all boy,” but children need to experience toys that are generally played with by the other gender so they can develop their creativity and expand their imagination.

  • For the first few months, focus on toys that use the large muscles. Toys and games that let her run, sweat and get tired will allow her to expend some of her nervous energy and release the tension and stress that are building in her body as she tries to adjust to her new life. Pair her up with another older adopted child. Other children who can recall going through the same adjustment period of adoption can be a tremendous help in teaching her how to play. You do not have to do this formally—just get them together and let the natural interactions between the children occur.