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Creative Kids: Six ways to help your kids play creatively

Think you need to be on hand 24/7 to keep the little ones entertained? You don’t. Letting your children do their own thing is really good for them, writes Tanya Sweeney

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Oisin O’Brien (6) playing with Lego at home in Co Wicklow

Oisin O’Brien (6) playing with Lego at home in Co Wicklow

Oisin O’Brien (6) playing with Lego at home in Co Wicklow

Do you remember your own childhood afternoons of making ‘dinner’ with leaves and twigs, sticking buttercups under your chin and creating wedding veils with the curtains?

If so, you’re closer to being able to entertain your children than you think. With many toys providing all sorts of entertainment, parents have lost the joyous art of free, unstructured playing. “It’s essential, more than anything,” notes psychotherapist Stella O’Malley. “We want to raise independent-thinking people who are self-motivated. We are living in a world where children are being taught to expect entertainment from the nearest adult, and it’s us that has taught them that. It’s kind of a false economy as you’re creating a very dependent child.” Giving a child the freedom to play, entertain themselves and be comfortable in their own company is a great gift, but how do you get started? Amazingly, all you have to do is less.

1 Getting started

“I’m bored” is the refrain that no parent wants to hear, but boredom is the take-off point for creativity and imagination. “Otherwise, the child is continuously pulling on you, and on everyone else,” advises O’Malley. Yet according to Mary Barry, chairperson of the Irish Play Therapy Association (IPTA), kids are naturally creative players. “If we provide enough little stimuli for children, they’ll automatically play. If you leave a child in a garden, they’ll find something to occupy themselves.” Boredom, says Barry, is not a bad thing. “When kids talk about being bored, they often mean they want attention. It could be hunger or tiredness — in that moment, they don’t want to do anything for themselves.”