#1 Parenting tip: 15 minutes of nondirective play per day
It’s spring break week here in the Kalamazoo area and I have been thinking about the importance of play between parents and their kids. When I work with parents I always encourage 15 minutes of nondirective play.
The first time I came across the idea of nondirective play was in the book, Growing up Brave, by Donna B. Pincus. Dr. Pincus encouraged all the parents of anxious children at her practice to participate in 15 minutes of nondirective play every day. She defined nondirective play as specific time when the parent followed the child’s lead.
I compare nondirective play to improvisational comedy. If you have ever seen improv shows like “Who’s line is it anyway” you know the first rule of improv is that you always say yes to your partner. Here’s an improv example, Partner #1 says, “We are swimming in the ocean.” Then, partner #2 says, “Yes… Oooh, the water feels nice.” All you have to do is follow your partner’s lead and go with it.
This is the same thing for nondirective play with kids; you follow their lead and go with it. You, as the parent, don’t say, “Why don’t we go play outside,” or redirect by saying things like, “Stop using the blue crayon to color grass, use the green.” An obvious exception to this would be when Junior is coloring blue grass on the wall of his bedroom, or any other safety concern that may ensue. The basic idea is that the child is safe and directing the play for 15 minutes.
During the play, the child is building and strengthening mirror neurons, which in turn, strengthens the bond the child has to the parent. The child’s ability to feel empathy for others also develops as do feelings of safety and confidence.