Want to try to improve your child’s behavior? Find out why Focused Play Time is the easiest way to improve your child’s behavior.
“Stop doing that.”
“I told you to put away your shoes.”
“You need to build your tower this way so it won’t fall.”
Does this sound like your home? If it does, you’re in good company.
So many parents wonder why it’s hard to get their children to follow directions, but in truth, when they are hearing negative things much of the day, children start to tune us out.
But if you’re trying to improve your child’s behavior, criticism or correcting won’t work.
Think about yourself: are you motivated by constant criticism from your spouse or boss? Do you continue to respect friends who’d speak to you this way? Probably not.
So how can you get your children to behave? It’s more fun than you think. Focused Play Time is the easiest way to get your children to behave.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links; read more here.
Why Should I Play with my Child?
Several years ago I learned about the power of what I call Focused Play Time from a therapist. My mother-in-law was dying of cancer, I was 8 months pregnant with our second child, and our oldest child was really having a hard time managing the stress. Our pediatrician’s office has psychologists on staff and she shared about the value of PRIDE Play.
PRIDE play is an acronym for play time where parents use Praise, Reflection, Imitation, Description, and Enthusiasm.
This brief conversation with the psychologist reminded me of the strategy I’d learned about during professional development for teaching. In Growing Up Brave by Donna Pincus, Ph.D., she showed that even 5 minutes of quality play time with a child daily could reduce childhood anxiety.
Only 5 minutes a day could reduce anxiety – say what?!
So my daughter and I began a Focused Play Time with great results.
What is Focused Play Time with Your Child?
Focused Play Time is just that: a focused time to play with your child. How you as the parent plays is what makes this so magical.
During Focused Play Time, the parent practices active listening and eliminates directions, questions, and criticism. Parents put their phones away and forget about work or the laundry during this time.
The child selects the toys from a variety of options and leads the play. The child experiences the power of praise and enthusiasm. This leads to increased security and confidence as Focused Play Time becomes more predictable.
The CDC refers to Focused Play Time as special playtime, while other parenting experts call it Time In (instead of Time Out).
How Does Focused Play Time Improve Behavior?
I’m sure you’re thinking, “yeah right, how is Focused Play Time really going to improve my child’s misbehavior?”
Well, you know that constant criticism or correction isn’t working. So let’s look at how the opposite approach could work.
- Related: Stop Focusing on the Bad Behavior
During Focused Play Time, parents will use specific praise, imitation, and predictably among other strategies.
Specific Praise on Positive Behaviors
With constant correction, children get negative attention for negative behavior. But here’s the problem: even negative attention is attention. Plus children are so used to constant correction that they will just tune you out altogether.
When you give your child specific praise for specific behaviors, it is pleasurable. And they will be more likely to repeat it.
Plus, it teaches the values you have for your family and puts attention on that.
When your child’s block tower falls down, you could say, “I like that you took a risk and tried something new.”
Imitation Build Confidence
During Focused Play Time, a parent imitates what the child is doing. Imitation demonstrates that the action is valued and worth repeating.
When a parent shows a child that they appreciate what the child has created so much, that they model it themselves, the child’s confidence will soar.
This isn’t the lukewarm praise of “you’re so smart.” It’s meaningful to say, “You’re building a tower and I want to do that, too.”
Predictability Reduces Anxiety
Focused Play Time is routine and predictable. It is only 5-10 minutes so it’s manageable for a parent’s busy schedule.
All human beings need attention and warmth. Children need to feel a connection. When they don’t get it, they often act out for negative attention. When a child’s cup is filled with a lot of positive attention and some brief focused play, you will see a reduction in anxiety. They know they can count on your connection and attention in a secure way. They can depend on you.
They need to know that their needs matter to you. And they should. This is not “attention seeking behavior” that many adults seem to think is manipulative and maladaptive. This is the genuine human need for security and connection.
Toys Matter in Focused Play Time
You’ll want to choose toys that are open-ended and don’t have a “right or wrong” way to place. Competitive games probably aren’t best nor are violent toys. Toys that spark innovation and creativity are the best.
Make sure you have enough supplies for both your child and you.
These are some of our favorites:
Try to use open-ended sets rather than the ones with specific instructions.
These types of toys allow children to build social skills and act outside of themselves.
Arts and craft encourage creativity and expression and give parents plenty of opportunity to imitate.
How to Play with Your Child during Focused Play Time
Play is the work of childhood and your child needs time to play much more during the day. It is NOT your job to play constantly with your child. That’s not good for them either. It’s your job to give them a small amount of positive, focused, dedicated time.
- Print out the Focused Play Time printable. It’s your cheat sheet.
- Set aside 5-10 minutes a day. Try using a sand timer for your child to have a visual representation of the time.
- Put away your phone in another room. Unless you’re waiting to cure cancer or avoid a nuclear war, everything can wait for 10 minutes. Your relationship with you child cannot.
- Put out a collection of open-ended toys for your child to choose from the list above.
- Focus on the acronym PRIDE (praise, reflect, imitate, describe, enthusiastic) as you comment on what your child is doing.
- Don’t give any advice, ask an questions, or offer any critiques. Your child is the leader, you are the follower.
- When the time is up, give your child a one-minute warning that play time is over.
- Remind your child when the next play time will be and follow through with it.
Recapping the Easiest Way to Improve Your Child’s Behavior
Here’s the recap for all the busy parents:
- Focused Play Time reduces childhood anxiety according to Donna Pincus, Ph.D.
- It is a focused time to play with your child.
- Parents practice active listening and avoid distractions.
- They eliminate directions, questions, and criticism.
- Praise for desired behaviors reinforces them and your family’s values.
- Imitating a child builds their confidence because it shows that the parent valued it.
- The predictability of the play time reduces anxiety.
- The toys matter – look for open ended toys like the ones linked above.
- Use the Focused Play Time printable to guide how you play with your child.
You can improve your child’s behavior as you build a better relationship with your child. Use the Focused Play Time printable to guide how to play with your child in a way that reduces problem behavior and builds confidence.