Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And, that’s it. Thanks for your time, folks. I’m kidding! Well, kind of, but I do have a few more ideas. Let’s discuss.
As a parent and speech therapist, one of my primary goals is to not only teach my child and clients about the world but to also teach them how to be kind, confident and yes, more independent. Not like driving themselves to school, independent. But, picking out their clothes or snack, independent.
However, to teach kids these concepts is no easy feat, so why not incorporate teaching into activities that they already love to do? Believe it or not, there are many simple ways to help develop these essential skills and encourage growth at home or school while they’re playing with toys, or games.
Below are some ideas (as a parent or a teacher) to apply with kids.
Practice Decision Making
Let kids make the play-time decisions! Encourage their interests, and engage with them. Playtime is a good time to figure out what kids gravitate towards and what strengths they possess. Does Johnny always want to play with dinosaurs? Sit back and let him tell you all about them. He’ll be so excited.
Encourage Flexible/Cooperative Play and Provide Strategies
Successful peer interactions build confidence, but if something goes awry kids may go running and never look back. So, if taking turns is an area of growth for your kid, try teaching a song (I’m looking at you, Daniel Tiger) or try using a timer. Or, if he doesn’t handle losing at a game very well, encourage him to take a deep breath at the end of the game to help cope. Setting goals are another way to encourage cooperative play. Come up with a common goal together, like you pick an activity and then the kid picks what to do next. Keep practicing your set strategies and common goals and his confidence is sure to grow!
Encourage Independent Play
Imagine this: Silence. Pretty nice, right? You can get this little slice of heaven by giving kids some space to play at their own free will. Kids feel pretty cool when they can go find a toy they like, sit down and play on their own. All without any help! They might protest at first but give them the encouragement that they need to go and find something to do on their own. Coloring, reading, cars, trains, dolls all are great examples.
Teach Ways to be Strong and Kind
Kids can be kind to one another without getting walked over. If your kid enjoys playing with a toy and someone else wants to play with it, model and encourage him to say: “Yes, you can play with the toy when I’m done.” Or, if another kid comes over and messes with his toy. “Please stop. I don’t like it when you try to take my toy.” Kindness is just as important as strength! And yes, teaching them how to handle tough situations in a strong, but kind way is wise, modeling it may be more important. Kids are always watching. Whether you think they are or not. Even in the car when someone cuts you off, so I’ve heard….
Praise and be Specific
Instead of saying, “Wow, you did awesome.” Try, “Wow, I really liked how you didn’t get frustrated when your block tower collapsed.” Or, “I feel so happy you shared your Legos with me.” By praising a specific behavior, kids know EXACTLY what they did that was awesome, and therefore are more likely to repeat the behavior again.
Help Develop Positive Self-Talk
It’s so easy for kids, heck, even adults to immediately jump to the most negative conclusion in a situation. “Ugh, I knew I couldn’t do it.” “I’m not that smart.” “It’s too hard.” Help change kids’ thinking when you catch them getting frustrated while playing, encourage thoughts like,“I can do it.” “I can try again.” That’s a small problem, I will be okay.”
Pair up With a Younger Child to Play
Is your kid really good at “Candyland?” Or, does he love to read? Maybe he is very patient? Build his confidence by pairing him up with a younger kid (cousin, sibling, neighbor, etc) to show him his ways. Kids love to help, and being able to teach another kid what he knows can be an excellent confidence boost.
Don’t Always Fix Everything, Let Them Problem-Solve
This is a tricky one. I know I’m guilty of wanting to swoop in and save the day! Mommy, to the rescue! But, whether kids are playing by themselves, with you or with another peer, encourage them to ask questions to try and solve the problem. Help them out by asking,“Why do you think your friend is upset?” “How can you agree together on a game to play?’ Or, make it visual. For example, make a “solution board.” Grab a piece of paper and put a picture at the top for a heading (like kids playing), then draw a grid with nine boxes and search for images to put in each box about what they could do to solve potential play problems and give options, like these:
Flip a coin
Take a deep breath
Try it another way
Get a timer to take turns
Say “please stop”
Find a new game together
You go now. I’ll go next.
We’re busy, I get it. But, it’s important to meet kids where they are. Sit down, sip some pretend tea, and talk about taking turns with the doll to the right. It will make a difference in the long run. And, in this day in age, it’s so important to teach kids to be kind AND to stand up for themselves. Teach them they won’t always get what they want and to be ok with that.
But, if all else fails, repeat the golden rule to them every time it’s necessary - and it may just do the trick. Yay, for strong and confident kids!
Danielle Novascone is the Co-Founder of Witty & Wordy. She has been a Speech-Language Pathologist for 12 years and a mom for a little over two years. She thoroughly enjoys coffee, wine, and Kansas City. She also loves to laugh, help kids and parents - and shop (mainly for her clients and kiddo!).