After 3.5 months apart due to an army deployment, my son Finn (21 months old) was going to be with his Dad again. Our mid-deployment family reunion was highly anticipated and I wanted to make it something memorable for all of us, but particularly a time for Finn to reconnect with his Dad. You see, we have FaceTime whilst he’s away but it’s much harder for a toddler to connect with someone like this.
So how does a child best build relationships and feel connected? I asked creative play and parenting expert, Dr Justin Coulson before I left, and his advice was amazing! Even if you don’t have time apart from your loved ones, this creative play advice is essential for any parents or friends of toddlers.
Developing relational connectedness with toddlers is simpler than you think
PLAY, PLAY, PLAY. See? It’s simple and fun!
According to Dr Coulson, creative play – the kind of play where children connect with others and use their imagination and their hands – leads to great learning outcomes and is an amazing way to build connectedness. Dr Coulson recommends playing with toys like DUPLO or other things around the home like cushions and sheets which you can build a cubby house with.
Creative Play allows development in areas of relatedness, competence, and autonomy
“There’s an important reason play matters so much to young children. Research shows that they need it to thrive (as do we). In fact, play is one of the most essential experiences children can be immersed in to equip them for later life. The more they do it, the better off they may be.” Dr Coulson said DUPLO creates space for three vital needs to be met in toddler’s lives: relatedness, competence, and autonomy:
Creating real connections and develop relational skills, learning how to communicate, managing conflict, collaborating, and bonding with parents, siblings, and friends.
The best kinds of play are not about consumption, but creation, enabling kids to explore the limits of their physical surroundings, and experience a sense of competence when they succeed – which makes them feel motivated and happy.
Toddlers develop a sense that they’re in control when they play. They do what feels intrinsically motivating – it makes them confident, resourceful, and resilient.
Dr Coulson’s creative play tips for parents
To give our toddler’s the best head start in life, these are Dr Coulson’s creative play tips for parents:
- Put the screens away and do something creative. Grab LEGO or DUPLO and build, make a cubby house with cushions, boxes and blankets, or make something in the kitchen.
- Get down on the floor with them. They want you in their world.
- Let your child take the lead. The more you can encourage and support their autonomy, the more they’ll explore, create, and remain motivated.
- Encourage talking. Lots. Playtime allows us to build strong relationships and communication skills.
- Role Play. As children ‘pretend’ to be the horse or the mum or the teacher, they develop cognitive, relational, and communication skills.
- Make sure that play is unstructured. This allows the children to use their imagination and creativity to make play whatever they want it to be.
- Encourage games and toys that are open-ended. Rather than there just being one way to do things, a child can develop endless possibilities in their play without feeling boxed in.
- Live in the moment and be playful. We often think about dinner, or other things on our agenda, when we play with our kids. Instead, let go of the worries and dive right in. Play in the here and now.
Solutions for home and away play
I was very on board with the LEGO suggestion because not only would it be fun when we got there, but it would give me something additional to entertain Finn with on the flight. Plus, Reis STILL loves LEGO (he gets me to buy it for him each birthday, haha!), so I thought it would be something he would like to bond with Finn over. I much prefer encouraging creative play with Finn than giving him a TV show or iPad to play with. In fact, whilst Reis has been away I think we only turned on the TV 3 times and that was when we had people over! This is also because I don’t tend to watch much TV. I just don’t enjoy it that much and so forget to turn it on. I would rather be outdoors playing with Finn, going for a walk, or pampering myself or creating a new recipe for the blog.
Father son connection during and after the holiday
Anyway, as you can see, LEGO came with us to Thailand and between that and time in the pool, it was a whole 11 days of family bonding filled with creative, relaxing play. I am so thankful for this precious and refreshing time we had together.
Mama Mission accomplished
Now, when Finn talks to Reis on FaceTime (Reis went straight back to the Middle East), he is more interested and conversational which makes my heart sing because it shows me that they connected well on holidays. Now only another 2.5 months to go until our precious little family can reconnect again (Honey the dog included too!).
PS Thailand itself was AMAZING – but that’s for another post 😉
LEGO Giveaway (2 boxes valued at $69.99 each)
The LEGO pictured here was gifted to me but as always I don’t like to keep all the cool gifts to myself. Without readers like you, this blog would be nothing, so I like to give back through giveaways and I have 2 sets of LEGO DUPLO for two lucky people to win.
Sharing is caring
Share this blog post with your friends and family that would also like to win some LEGO for their kids, or might just find Dr Coulson’s advice interesting! There also are incentives for this when you enter below.
Good luck! Competition closes midnight 2 July 2018, Australian entrants only.