Learn to communicate better with children – simply through play
Parents and therapists should use play more often as a tool to facilitate their communication with children.
As children reach the age of six, most of them will have spent about 15,000 hours playing. We can say that playing is the job of children. It facilitates the development of various aspects of their growth, including the physical, motor, cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional aspects of children.
Children who go through adversities – such as their parents’ divorce, migration, school examination, natural disaster, illness or bereavement – are often under pressure. Playing is the most natural way for them to express themselves.
It can aid children’s non-verbal expressions, and reduce frustration and anxiety, as play provides a channel for them to express different emotions.
For example, folding paper planes, painting on the fingers and conducting puppet shows can bring a lot of laughter and joy. Hitting clay with a hammer or toy models provides a safe channel for expressing negative emotions.
When used in a health-care context, play can prepare children for some unfamiliar medical procedures. In short, playing can take children’s attention away from feeling panic, worry or stress.
Playdough can be considered as a classic tool for creative play. Using playdough, children can make their own creations with no sense of winning or losing. Without any regulations and rules to win the game, playdough can provide support and healing to children, compared to competitive games such as Monopoly.
Play also gives family members such as parents and siblings an opportunity to interact more with one another. During play, emotional help from one family member may be offered when another family member looks upset. Playing games offer the best family time to maintain relationships. Sometimes, families can discuss sensitive issues through acting out scenarios together, for example, “in the hospital”, “failing an examination”, or “at a funeral”.
Some sick children are not suitable for certain kinds of games due to physical weakness. However, they can still enjoy or express their emotions through playing with adults. If they are able to nod their heads to answer questions or speak, they can interact with adults. For example, the adults may engage them in playing with dolls and puppets, or guide their hands as they draw.
Toys, small tools, creative arts and books are effective tools to achieve the therapeutic purpose of play.
Carmen W. H. Chan and Martin Wong, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Agnes M. Chan, International Christian School