How to Play with your Child

Playing with your child is a way to teach them about social engagement, following rules, impulse control (taking turns), language development, developing imagination, exploring the environment, and brain (cognitive) development. Model play behaviors, have fun, be relaxed, and allow free play as this is when children initiate and learn the most.

  1. Get down to your child’s level (sit on the floor next to your child).
  2. Observe – what is your child looking at, what is he interested in.
  3. Stay physically close and use touch often (rub their back, hug).
  4. Provide firm, maintained, touch pressure hugs throughout the day and play time.
  5. Imitate your child (sounds and actions) – allow him to be the leader.
  6. Some children do better when others interact with them with quiet voices, some do better with a more animated voice, and some with a sing song voice. Try different approaches and observe your child’s response. Try to match your level of enthusiasm to your child’s to show him you are as engaged as he is.
  7. Slow down – wait for your child to process and formulate a response or action. As children are learning new skills they need more time to process information.
  8. Join in your child’s play imitating what he does and slowly expanding on it (from building a tower with blocks, to knocking it over “accidentally”, to creating a train from the blocks…)
  9. Use positive language (instead of “that does not fit” say “try this, maybe it will fit better here”)
  10. Use simple, short words and sentences. Do not give directions – use language to support, expand, and describe his play (“That’s a great tower, so high”).
  11. Give lots of verbal and physical reinforcements.
  12. Observe – if your child is turning his head, shutting his eyes, moving away – something does not feel right to him. Change the way you are interacting to regain the positive, eye contact, smile engagement.
  13. Learning happens in a relaxed, happy, supportive environment.
  14. Match your pace (speed of engagement) and level (loudness and animation) to your child.
  15. Once your child shows interest in an activity, repeat it, then stop and wait for your child to indicate he wants more. Respond to any attempt to continue the activity.
  16. Do not correct a child as the goal is to encourage the engagement not to play “correctly”.
  17. Be playful – smile, laugh, be “goofy”.

Compiled by Sara Torten MS, OTR/L