Play is an essential part of child development. In this episode I am joined by @mommoies creator and the co-founder of Union Square Play, Jennie Monness. Together we discuss the wonders of play and why it’s such an important part of how kids make sense of their world and build healthy relationships. We’ll be talking about what exactly play is (hint: it’s way more than you might think), why play is so important, how to create a safe and enriching play environment for your child, and explain a bit of the psychology and brain chemistry that is activated and supported by play. For more support around play, including creative play invitations and ideas for kids of all ages, head to unionsquareplay.com to learn more about their parenting community Parenting+.
A CONVERSATION WITH JENNIE MONNESS
- Jennie is the creator of @mommoies, co-founder of Union Square Play and the mom of 2 little girls
- She received her Master’s Degree from Teachers college, Columbia University and has spent the past 12 years working in early childhood
- She now teaches classes, speaks at events and has an overall mission to support, connect and empower moms
WELCOMING JENNIE TO THE SHOW
- She created a resource for play for children’s earliest years, but hopes it continues on forever (no one is too old for play!)
- Jennie’s journey into play began as a psychology student and flowed organically from there
- Dr. Sarah and Jennie are both followers of the parenting philosophy RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) and have bonded over this shared connection
WHAT IS MAGICAL ABOUT PLAY AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
- Play is the bedrock of so many aspects of child development: self identify, relationships, emotion regulation, learning, the list goes on!
- Play provides parents a glimpse into a child’s cognitive and emotional development and creates a window of opportunity to understand who they are, how they think about the world, and where they are at developmentally
- We often think play is a way to occupy time in between all the other stuff, but it can actually teach us so much
- This is true for all of us – what I do to “play” says a lot about me as well – it’s who I am
PARENTS DON’T ALWAYS REALIZE WHAT PLAY IS
– An infant looking at the wall and seeing a shadow – this is play
– Play is a child trying to figure out how everything works: early experimentation
– Play requires a child to first feel that they are safe and secure
– Play is a way of connecting – allowing a child to lead during play, you are fostering a relationship with them where they are allowed to follow their interests and feel your supportive presence.
HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO A PARENT WHO THINKS THEY NEED TO INTRODUCE PLAY TO THEIR CHILD AND TEACH THEM HOW TO DO IT
– When we allow space and time for our child to react on their own, we get to know who they are
SETTING UP RICH ENVIRONMENT CONDUCIVE FOR PLAY
- Make sure it is safe (reduces interruptions in their play and flow)
- See how much is too much for your child – this is different for everyone, so assess based on your own child’s needs. Pay attention to what your child is really interested in and pare down some of the rest.
- Ideally it is small enough that it’s not overwhelming and large enough that kids can make a mess and practice developmental tasks – dumping, sorting, banging
- Attend to when they feel most stimulated, as well as their developmental activity level
- Remember that for very young children, play looks like mess making!
SCHEMAS AND EARLY BEHAVIOR
- Sometime behavior looks like it’s not optimal, but it actually is expected and productive
- Schemas are urges that young children have that are a form of learning (throwing = what’s heavy, what’s light, what makes a noise, what breaks, what is allowed to be thrown and what is not, etc)
- Our job is to make sure they are doing it safely while allowing them space to explore in this way
WHEN PARENTS RUSH IN TO SHUT DOWN A BEHAVIOR IT CAN TRANSFORM THE PLAY INTO SOMETHING NEW ENTIRELY
- Turns into a provocative dance – instead of play, child has to start attending to the relationship with parent, has to start testing for safety
- You need to feel safe and secure to be able to play
- If we interrupt their play with intense affect – we move them out of that space of play and creativity, and focus their attention on the affect
“Play is so rich. It’s never just the “thing.” That’s the whole point. It’s representational, it’s symbolic.”
THIS APPLIES TO OTHER RELATIONSHIPS YOUR CHILD IS FORMING AS WELL
- Jennie’s younger daughter has been throwing food and her older sister is laughing at this
- Kids can be confused trying to figure out the different reactions (Mom is setting a limit, but my sister is giving me a positive reaction) – this can cause them to test boundaries even more to figure it out
PLAY OFFERS CHILDREN THE OPPORTUNITY TO TEST THEIR BOUNDARIES
- Testing what is ok to do, what is safe, what is frustrating, what tolerance do they have for challenges
- Understanding the effect my behavior has on other people – social and emotional learning that is being done through play
SCAFFOLDING – TAKING SMALL STEPS TO INTERVENE AND SUPPORT WITHOUT DOING IT FOR OUR CHILD
- As parents, play gives us the opportunity to learn about our own distress tolerance (how much we can handle when our child is struggling, and how much of this am I projecting onto my child’s experience? Differentiate what is hard for me to watch and what is actually hard for my child)
- Play from day one allows us an exercise in distress tolerance that can be beneficial throughout our child’s life
- We can help kids by offering a minimal amount of intervention to support them, without doing for them
(WAIT TO ADD GRAPHIC UNTIL SITE IS DONE AND OPERATIONAL)
(WAIT TO ADD GRAPHIC UNTIL SITE IS DONE AND OPERATIONAL)
NARRATE THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE SO THEY CAN SIT IN THE DISCOMFORT
- We can acknowledge their frustration and that will help them sit longer in it because they know they are not alone
- We’re not taking the frustration away, but showing them it’s safe to feel uncomfortable
- It helps to delineate what is hard for me to watch vs what is hard for my child to experience
OUR ROLE AS PARENTS WHO SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN PLAY
- Fostering independent play allows parents to get a break
- Gives parents room to separate from child and learn about him or her while allowing them to know they are safe when they explore
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “WANTS SOMETHING” TIME AND “WANTS NOTHING” TIME
- As long as their independent play is safe, it should be “wants nothing” time
- During caregiving moments you can have expectations and is “wants something” time
- Play is a way for them to learn in a way that in internal to them and not according to our agenda
WHEN A CHILD IS GIVEN PERMISSION TO FOLLOW INTEREST AND NOT US LEADING IT, THEY ARE FOLLOWING THEIR OWN INTRINSIC MOTIVATION
– They get a flood of pleasure, self satisfaction and joy from discovering something. This releases a quick hit of dopamine and tells the child “let’s do that again, that feels good.”
– This sets the foundation for a lifelong joy of learning that is internally sourced
– It’s never too late to do this. And you can tell your child what you’re doing and why you’re holding back on solving the problem for them.”I don’t want to take that away from you by doing it for you.”
– You can maintain the connection, without fixing it – the interpersonal connection remains, but the solution doesn’t come from you
“We don’t have to solve it. But, we can sit there with them. And it’s the sitting there with them that actually creates the safety. And that’s where the secure attachment comes from.”
HOW TO CONNECT WITH JENNIE
- On Instagram at @momommies
- Check out unionsquareplay.com to learn more about play and their platform P+
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH PLAY IN YOUR OWN FAMILY? GO TO @SECURELYATTACHEDPODCAST ON INSTAGRAM AND COMMENT ON THE SHOW POST TO LET ME KNOW!
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