Saturday 24 August 2019

'Parents should play with their children every day for TEN minutes to battle anxiety' - leading psychologist

Photo: IKEA
Photo: IKEA
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Every child should have at least ten minutes of play every day with their parents or guardians, according to a leading Irish child psychologist.

Today, on International children’s day, Dr Cliona Carey says play is not just beneficial for children, but for their parents too.

"A neuroscientist in America found that when an adult and child are playing in this special way and the adult is basically connecting with the child, the brain growth of the child looks the same as the brain growth in the adult. So you’re growing your brains together."

"The thing I would say to parents is to prioritise your life. As Irish parents we’re so harsh on ourselves to be perfect, but if you can do one thing for your child, it is to have that ten minutes of special play with your child.”

"Play, while it may seem so simple, it is so extremely complex."

“In childhood and adolescence, play is essential for connection with others, the development of social awareness, communication and language skills, as well as emotional regulation and gross/fine motor skills.”

“In adulthood, play is associated with reducing stress and restoring mental and physical well-being.”

Every child has a right to play under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And home superstore IKEA today launched its Play Report 2017 which explores the importance of play for adults and children, together with the emotional aspects of playing.

“This is the third report that IKEA have launched on play and the interaction between children and adults. Play is absolutely fundamental to that,” Dr Carey said.

“As parents in Ireland we’re extremely busy, we’re working because we’re paying a mortgage or rent, we don’t really have much time.”

But she added: “One of the areas I’m advocating is to spend ten or 15 mins with your child a day. The majority of the work I do is with parents of children who have anxiety difficulties. I discovered a manual called ‘From timid to tiger’.”

 “It talks about the seven confident thoughts: The world is a pretty safe place; I can cope with most things; bad things don’t usually happen to me; bad things don’t pop up out of the blue; I have some control over the things that happen to me; people are pretty nice really; other people respect me.”

“Parents often go, hang on a second, the world is not a safe place. But if you want to bolster self-esteem and confidence in your child, their world while they’re with you could be a safe place.”

“In my work with children and families, I see play as fundamental to the development of a secure parent/child attachment.”

“Through special time with parents, children learn about how they are seen through their parents’ eyes. This is crucial for the development of a sense of self and the ability to regulate emotions.”

In China, Germany and the US, IKEA found that people play for the same reasons - to repair (rest), to connect, to escape, to explore, and to express.

Dr Carey explained: “It’s an experience to have with your child in which they lead  If you think about it, children nowadays, they have no choice in what time they get up at, go to school at.”

“Whereas this gives them the message that they have control in their lives.

Dr Carey recommends that during this special play time parents don’t ask questions and they remain present.

“It’s ten or 15 mins a day where play is done in the mindful way, the here and now. You want to be able to spend that time with your child and not think about the washing and the spuds that have to be peeled.”

“As parents we ask lots and lots of qustions – what are you doing? what are you playing? That’s not actually being special or having play with your children. Adults are very, very product oriented, but for children it’s not about the product, it’s the process.”

“It’s like you’re on a TV show and you’re talking about what you see – ‘oh you’ve chosen a blue block there’. You’re running a commentary of what they’re doing, telling your emotional experience of what the child is doing. Parents who have done this say they see a massive reduction in the child’s anxiety levels through this special time.”

“The more you do that over time, and in adolescence, they’ve got an experience of positive play and a positive experience.

“It's about bringing the seven confident thoughts into your child's world, and for them to think 'people respect me, people are nice really', so when you have that break-up as teenager or that first fight with friends, they have the tools to deal with it.”

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