My child doesn’t play. Or talk. Effective Play Ideas – Solution #1: WHO you ARE: YOU are the best toy.
You want to play with your child. But all he wants to do is run to and fro endlessly vocalising loudly or fiddling with an object or sitting absentmindedly on a chair or lolling on the sofa. You’ve tried to interest him in toys or play activities. But whenever you try to show or teach him something, his eyes drift away, his hands go limp or he just wanders off. Or he screams and messes it all up. You feel lost. And so does the child.
Perhaps you worry about autistic-like behaviours? Perhaps the child has an autism diagnosis. But that hasn’t really helped to improve the situation or to make you feel less helpless or confused.
The Key is: It’s NOT the Toys! Because YOU are the best toy!
In my previous post I said that the key to solving this difficult problem is not a matter of toys. The key is in the relationship between you and your child, and in figuring out:
- where is YOUR CHILD’s interest?
- how can you ‘CATCH’ his interest and attention?
- how to MAKE IT FUN, so he wants to engage with you?
Most of the time, figuring this out is not a matter of doing more, but of doing LESS. In order to figure out, where your child’s interest is, take your time to observe what he is doing, what he likes and what catches his interest when he’s by himself.
Yesterday, I saw a 3 year old boy who doesn’t talk and doesn’t play. Sitting next to him on the sofa, I talked to him a little about the pictures of Lego figures on the box he was looking at. He did not respond. But he also did not run away. I waited and gave him some time. He turned the box and I noticed the same figures on the other side, and commented on that. He turned it up again. When he made some vocal sounds, I imitated them, treating them as an important communication from him. When I stopped, he did it again. So did I. When I stopped, he looked at me, and blew a raspberry. So did I. He looked at me in disbelief, which made me smile. He smiled too, and we traded smiles a few times. He vocalised again, and we went back and forth like this for several minutes, which felt like a very long time.
Some important PLAY-TECHNIQUES I used:
- simply ‘being with’ him, – without making demands or expectations
- being interested in where the child is at and what he is feeling
- listening and being open to the child’s communications and possible ideas
- mirroring his vocalisations & copying what the child does
- expectant waiting, so it is the child himself to take the initiative
- following the child’s ideas
- going for emotional engagement (not for trying to teach or make him do something different)
- treating all of his communications as important and meaningful
- ‘circles of communication’ and a to-and-fro of looking and vocalisations as in a conversation
- using my voice to show him, that I am interested in HIS ideas
Here are some things to AVOID, i.e. I was
- NOT trying to teach or impose my ideas on him
- NOT asking the child to do something or to do something different
- NOT bombarding him with words or just using speech to communicate with him
It’s not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it
The key is to focus on your child’s feelings and his little points of interest, – on playful 1-1 interaction with another person that is emotionally engaging and makes him, and you, feel nice and warm and friendly with each other.
DON’T focus on speech, – focus on PLAYFUL INTERACTION.
The child cannot focus his mind and coordinate his senses. He feels lost inside himself and he cannot turn his interest to the outside world. He doesn’t understand, and the more you tell him, the less he understands. Remember, that a child is not like a computer that can be programmed. Therefore: don’t focus on speech. He’s not ready. A child who doesn’t play is a child who doesn’t understand about the world, which means he is not ready to speak and use words. Talking will grow out of being able to interact and play. Children who have difficulty with playing, also have problems with language, and speech problems can also be seen in a child’s play. A child’s play and language development mirror each other, because they are essentially made from the same ‘stuff’. Therefore: focus on playful interaction and having fun with each other.
SENSORY ACTIVITIES for engaging a difficult-to-engage child:
- Gently shaking arms or legs in rhythm
- Gently squeezing arms, leg, head, …
- Gentle wrestling
- Blowing on their skin, hair, face
- Peekaboo in all sorts of different variations
- Opening and closing a door and playing peek a boo from the other side
- Rubbing the back, tickling, wrestling, rough housing
- Rolling child up in a rug
- Swinging in a blanket
- Watching/blowing bubbles
- Humming, drumming
- Tapping on the back with rhythm
- Dancing, jumping in rhythms, action songs
With these solutions, you and your child will have some realistic opportunities to interact, to get into contact, to feel less lost and to have fun with each other. In that way, the child can experience the world, himself and your relationship with him in new ways. Gradually, you can help him to make progress and to move towards new experiences, interest in the world, playful interaction and learning to communicate more.