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checkersIt’s the New Year and everyone is trying to set their New Year’s Resolution and try to figure out how to stick with it. They are also trying to recover from the holidays and the shopping, lights and toys. Your child is probably playing with all their new toys, or at least the one favorite one they got. You may have already set your 2012 resolutions, but I would like to challenge you to include; improving your relationship with your child.

Play with Your Child

When a family has a child with special needs, it can become difficult and chaotic at times trying to manage therapy, school, behaviors, medical concerns, lack of sleep, not eating, special diet…..this list could go on. Oh and don’t forget your other children and your spouse and other family members. They need attention too!

So much of our lives are filled up with activities; school, soccer, dance, church, PTA meetings, work, family gatherings, swim lessons and so on. I encourage you to take a step back, take 5 slow deep breaths and remember why you are running around every day from thing to thing and how much time have you actually sat down and Played with your child! Engaging and building relationships are so important and children learn how to play with others from the way their parents play with them.

How Much Play Time?
As an occupational therapist, I have to PLAY all day with the kiddo’s that I work with. Sometimes this can be exhausting, but it is SO VERY important. For every hour that your child is in some sort of therapy or class, you should spend an hour on the floor truly engaging and playing with them. This means if they have 2 hours of OT a week, 2 hours of Speech a week, 10 hours of ABA or Floortime a week and music class one time a week, you should be spending AT LEAST 13 hours of 1:1 play time with your child.

Gain Social Skills 
Especially if your child is younger (under the age of 5 or 6) you want to engage with a game or activity that they enjoy. You can help build their self-esteem by playing games that everyone wins or is a “feel good” game like hide-n-seek. Once your child gets a little older, you want them to understand they cannot always get their way during play and challenge them to changing up the rules, or allowing them to win at times, but also to not win so they learn how to deal with both sides of the game.

Play Dates
When setting up playdates with peers, try it with one other peer to start. Pick a peer that is going to be a good fit, someone who is patient and understanding of your child’s specific needs. Make sure you have something structured for the beginning of the playdate to help the children begin to interact and engage, then you can let them play a game that allows them more freedom to create ideas. For example, Sam comes over to play and you have prepared an activity for the kids to help you make cookies or bread. This is a good structured task that has a benefit at the end of being able to eat the product. Then you can allow the boys to go and play lego’s or cars where they have to share ideas and work together. They may even have a hard time taking turns or deciding who gets the Lightening McQueen car, but you can help guide them to problem solve if they are at that level of play.

Get Creative 
If you can get the children interested in an activity that allows them to use their creative mind this is even better. Creating or building an obstacle course in the house, or outside making a fort. We want our children to expand on their pretend play and learning through positive experiences will help them develop friendships and future relationships.

When parents can take time out of their busy schedule and sit down to play with their kids, you will see increased social skills and a better foundation for relationship and engagement in the future. Work hard, but play hard.